Review: The Cravats. 2017. Dustbin of Sound. Overground Records. Over157 LP | Over157 CD
I’VE HAD THE good fortune to see the reformed and rejuvenated Cravats perform live twice in the last few years. On both occasions, they’ve been extraordinary and utterly compelling.
At Steve Ignorant’s Last Supper gig in London in November 2011, The Cravats took to the stage in front of an audience so densely packed together you’d have to conclude that the venue’s published 2k capacity was, in practice, a “minimum occupancy” requirement. Completely unphased by the stature of the event, The Cravats began with a mesmerising version of “Rub Me Out”, the opening salvo in an explosive set. The band took the place by the scruff of the neck and didn’t relinquish the hold until they had delivered their closing declaration of intense dislike for the universe.
As the headliners to Vi Subversa’s Naughty Thoughts in Brighton in December 2015, The Cravats were no less insistent in front of an intimate club audience. The swirling, seething indignation of “When Will We Fall” was a highlight in a riveting set that blended numbers old and new.
They might have put “it” down for a while, during the “Cravatless times” after the band went on indefinite hiatus in the mid-1980s (evolving into several successor outfits) before the 2009 reunion, but seeing The Cravats on stage again now is immediate, visceral confirmation that The Shend and his fellow troubadours have picked “it” up again and fully intend to bash anyone within reach around the ears with it.
In the last 12 months, The Cravats have become something of a vinyl generating machine. Impressive and well-received new singles Jingo Bells and Blurred have now been followed in short order by the band’s first album in 37 years: clear evidence of the band’s renewed surge of confidence and creativity.
With more than three decades in which to prepare, it’s fair to say that expectations are running high. Being The Cravats, the only proper way to reset the preconceptions of others is to select a suitably self-deprecating title for the album. Dustbin of Sound is, as you would expect, anything but a trashcan of discarded, cast-off noises. It is in fact a carefully crafted selection of the stuff that The Cravats (as this release attests) still do so well: musical and lyric creations that are inventive, unexpected, powerful, that little bit weird and unsettling, and delivered with a distinctive, off-kilter sense of panache that remains the band’s signature.
Dustbin of Sound is anything but a trashcan of discarded, cast-off noises. It is in fact a carefully crafted selection of the stuff that The Cravats still do so well
Events begin with scowling, soaring “King of Walking Away”, the fractious and punchy “Batterhouse”, and the disarmingly retro “Motorcycle Man”. Rampton Garstang on drums and Joe 91 on bass make for a formidably tight and accomplished rhythm section, while Viscount Biscuits power-drives his guitar through the twists and turns of every arrangement, dropping out and then surging back in as needed. Svor Naan writes such original and inspired parts for saxophone and clarinet you can’t help but wonder if he’s got some sort of special licence, while throughout The Shend sings, shouts, whispers, and threatens to assail you with a spoken word vocal; sometimes all within the confines of a single song. In the mix, there are moments of jazz-infused switcheroos, hints of The Birthday Party, and echoes of mid-period Dead Kennedys, but mostly there’s a hearty dose of the work of those peerless Cravats boys.
There genuinely isn’t a weak track amidst the 13 that make up the album. It’s therefore difficult to pick favourites, but for this reviewer the shortlist would include the high-amped “Power Lines”; the disconcertingly marvellous “Bury the Wild”, with its wildly upbeat bridge linking the verse to the rumbling, grumbling chorus; and the caustically catchy “Hang Them”.
The Cravats have always been more at home with the Dadaist, semi-surrealist reading of the anarchist idea than with the polemics of Bakunin or Murray Bookchin. You’ll search in vain for singalong slogans or simple wave-fist-in-air issue cues in a Cravats song. The Cravats’ anarchism is more artistically rooted and instinctive than that, although you’re never left in doubt about their clear political affinities. The Shend remains as capable as ever of penning a witty, acerbic or comedic (but always insightful) lyric about some aspect or other of the absurdities of life lived in a state of unfreedom. (So we’ll allow him the stream of disassembled lyrical ridiculousness in “All U Bish Dumpers”).
Dustbin of Sound is exemplary Cravats’ work. The sound mix is muscular and clean, lighting up a band on razor-sharp form; in both the songwriting and performance stakes. This is a more than fitting follow-up to 1980’s The Cravats in Toytown and 1986’s The Colossal Tunes Out, a set of top tunes that deserve to blare out from tannoy systems and other sound devices across the land. In terms of satisfying unmet musical desires, a new Cravats album is the very thing. Let’s just agree that we won’t have to wait another forty years for the next one.
Dustbin of Sound is released on 29 September 2017, and is available for pre-order from the Overground Records site.
The Cravats. 2017. Dustbin of Sound. Overground Records. Over157 LP / Over157 CD
- In the UK, you can enjoy tracks from The Cravats session for BBC 6’s Mark Riley show (18 September 2017), previewing songs from Dustbin of Sound (“Bury the Wild”, “Hang Them” and “Batterhouse”) on the BBC iPlayer Radio service until 21:00 on 18 October 2017.