Review: The Cravats. 2020. Hoorahland. Overground Records. Over 172 LP | Over 172 CD
THE RELEASE OF Hoorahland, the latest Dadaist intervention by Redditch’s best ever export, has me remembering the story of a walkout by university lecturers in Manchester in the mid-1970s. Why wouldn’t it? The strike action was in response to wage settlements in the FE sector which had eroded differentials in the HE sector. Academics were outraged at losing out as a result of the changes. A lobby on Oxford Road was flooded with demonstrators demanding the employers take further action to address the injustice. Their placards carried one of the most memorable wage struggle demands of the era: “Rectify the anomaly!”
I’ve been reminded of that halcyon moment only because, through the release of Hoorahland, The Cravats have themselves confronted an injustice and addressed an aberration. In 2017, The Cravats released the captivating and completely compelling Dustbin of Sound, the band’s first album in four decades. The completion of Hoorahland just three years later means the appropriate schedule for the release of Cravats albums in the twenty-first century has now been established. Anomaly no more.
Dustbin of Sound was an extraordinarily accomplished album, reflecting the resurgent confidence and boundless inspiration of a band determined not to be constrained by the influence of past triumphs. Hoorahland is arguably even more impressive, showing The Cravats’ ability to build on, blend and extend that combination of post-punk power with not-constrained-by-punk inventiveness. It’s a distinctive style bursting with possibilities and a musical method unmatched by any of their peers. No-one, but no-one, sounds quite like The Cravats.
The noises of The Cravats have always been a collaborative endeavour, and the musicality and sheer bloomin’ talent of the band lights up Hoorahland from beginning to end
There’s arguably a darker sonic edge to Hoorahland than Dustbin of Sound, but if there’s a tilt towards the unsettling it’s the company of a band in whose hands even the eccentric and ambitious will sound irresistibly delicious. (Yes, I am enjoying myself, thank you. Do you know how much grim lo-fi stuff about nuclear war and animal suffering ends up on my everyday playlist?)
At the centre of operations stands The Shend, a crafty crooner possessed of a breadth of vocal styles that empower him to project multiple personas: demented toymaker at one moment, tormented sooth-sayer the next. Yet the noises of The Cravats have always been a collaborative endeavour, and the musicality and sheer bloomin’ talent of the band lights up Hoorahland from beginning to end. Guitar sounds that flip between jangling, driving and dissonant staccato rhythms, and that bounce off rich, clever saxophone textures. Each number is pushed forward by driving bass lines and uber-tight drums patterns. The whole record exudes confidence and self-belief: a mastery of the material by a band at the height of their powers who are determined to giggle like a demented lawn ornament in the face of the predictable.
Opening tracks “Goody Goody Gum Drops” sees The Shend at his most lyrically playful, and introduces what’s a recurring creative tension on this release: the absurd and the upbeat butting musical heads with the stark and the disconcerting. Single “Shy” is another act of misdirection and juxtaposition. “I’m shy!”, belows The Shend, appearing anything but. “Sometimes I think I’d rather die, than have to look you in the eye.” It’s riotous, righteous and rambunctious stuff.
“Same Day” begins by holding its swirling power in check through a deceptively restained verse, lifts itself through the bridge, and then builds its power through layers of catchy repetition: an exploration of boredom rendered as its very antithesis. The twisted circus theatrics of “Now The Magic Has Gone” sees Jello Biafra from The Dead Kennedys join the fray, with the twin vocals ensuring that the unsettling timbre ratchets up. It needs to be the soundtrack for a movie title sequence so much it hurts.
The richly atmosphere “Good for You” kicks in with the ambience of a late-night drive through the thoroughfares of the neon city. “Oh How We Laughed” is downright unnerving. It’s an oddball, halting “dustbin of sound” (if you will). It’s not a bangin’ tune destined to fill the dancefloor. But it might have you glancing nervously over your shoulder to see if the thing making all the banging noises is following you.
The twisted circus theatrics of Now The Magic Has Gone sees Jello Biafra from The Dead Kennedys join the fray, with the twin vocals ensuring that the unsettling timbre ratchets up
“There is No God” is the album’s polemic high-point. It opens with the kind of bass alert that would have Crass’ Pete Wright sit up and take notice, before The Shend tears into the idea of “intelligent design” and of divine omniscience. “You’re all alone. How does that make you feel?”, he demands – as you wilt in response. As the track powers to its unflinching conclusion, it almost feels like Rimbaud has joined in on percussion for old times sake. “March of the Business Acumen” picks up the tempo and, with its killer hook, is certain to be a live favourite, as is the super-catchy “Trees & Birds & Flowers & Sky”.
“Jam Rabbits” is an altogether rockier endeavour. Beautifully put together, it’s as though the band picked up a track from the Rattus Norvegicus studio session that The Stranglers discarded because it was too weird, and ran it through the Cravat-o-maker to produce something entirely other. Each time that low-end, stop-start buzz guitar kicks back in, it’s another moment of genuine loveliness. “Morris Marina” is a more complex affair, that takes the time to build its swagger and punch. But you’ll be hooked long before its rousing finale.
The production of Hoorahland is excellent. There’s a depth and sophistication to the soundscape which suggests that the band invested the time to produce the feel they wanted. The sounds of The Cravats’ alter-egos and alternate personalities can be heard in the mix (DCL and The Very Things especially), but without any sense of the band feeling the need to be held back by that or by a desire to hit the replay button in the song-writing stakes.
Title track “Hoorahland” wraps things up in fine style, with its jaunty celebration of disappointment. “Do you feel that when the music stops, you’re always left without a chair,” asks The Shend. Oh, that’s insightful on so many levels. But there’s nothing on Hoorahland that will leave you feeling bereft. Hoorah for The Cravats! Their latest awesome album has landed. If the now firmly-established new release calendar is to be believed, the next Cravats LP should drop in 2023. Don’t you dare be late.