Lambs to the slaughter
‘Go easy on these lads, okay? They’re only, like, 15,’ implores the editor as she sends me on a fool’s errand to Cavan to get The Strypes’ opinions on Jack White’s new album. Sod that, says DARAGH DOWNES, let’s put these upstarts through their paces. The Album Club takes no prisoners
BAH HUMBUG, we said as we hit the M3 for Cavan on a wet Thursday. What was it our editor had said before kicking us northwards for the night? “Go easy on these lads, okay? They’re only, like, 15.” Which kind of raised the question why a bunch of semi-articulate teenagers who only do covers should be invited to be Album Club guests in the first place. Who cares if they’ve played the Late Late? Who cares if they’ve hit No 1 on the iTunes blues chart? Who cares if Glen Hansard thinks they’re the bee’s knees? As distinguished YouTube commenter threefour99 recently pointed out, The Strypes are more like a manufactured boyband than a real group.
SCHOOL IN THE MORNING
And what’s this cod about us having to make the trek up to Cavan to do the interview? They’re just back from London and are up to their eyes with radio and TV commitments? Oh, boo hoo. They’ve got school in the morning? Cry us a river. Next they’ll be complaining about only getting three or four days to live with the Jack White album. Talk about high maintenance.
We’re met at Cavan Cathedral by the band’s manager, Niall Walsh. He asks us to follow him to their rehearsal space a few miles out of town. Aha, so this is how it’s going to be, is it? A clinically stage-managed affair, with Monsieur Svengali up ahead controlling every little move. No doubt he has his charges well prepped with bullet-point handouts. No doubt he’ll be sitting in on the session to help “clarify” any issues that might arise.
Well don’t worry, we’ll put these boyos through their paces – editor be damned. The kid gloves are coming off. By the time we’re through, even Tony Fenton will have seen through their schtick.
As soon as we reach Strypes HQ, the band tell us they don’t just want to review Blunderbuss, they want to record their own version of one of its songs. As in: in front of us. It’s going to be an even longer night than we thought. The track they’ve chosen is the old Little Willie John standard, I’m Shakin’. They start setting up and, in the time it takes most bands to get the kick drum miked, they have the song recorded, mixed and videoed.
THE INTERROGATION ROOM
Svengali quietly leaves the room. What’s his game? We set the dictaphone running and start by asking the lads can we quickly go round the table and get their overall verdict on the album. “Depends how fast you can walk,” deadpans frontman Ross Farrelly. Cue retaliatory curveball from The Ticket. Okay, boys, let’s have your musicological analysis of album opener Missing Pieces then. We press play on the CD, fold our arms and sit back.
Ten seconds in and they’re off. “I think it’s like freakbeat when the drums come in,” says lead guitarist Josh McClorey. “His strategy with this track is to slowly just lead you into it a bit,” says drummer Evan Walsh. “Yeah, he’s kind of saying: come hither,” says bassist Pete O’Hanlon. “That’s why he didn’t open with Sixteen Saltines,” says Josh, “because it sounds like signature Jack White.” “Yeah, you’d probably have preconceptions about what the rest of the album is like,” says Pete. “I like Missing Pieces at the beginning. It’s telling you to get your kit on, it’s going to be a good album”
“I quite like the keyboard sound at the start,” says Evan.
“It’s Rhodes, isn’t it?” says Josh. “Yeah, Rhodes piano,” says Evan. “It’s like What’d I Say by Ray Charles or Some Other Guy by Richard Barrett – a bit like that soundwise.”
“Stick on Sixteen Saltines there,” says Ross. “I like this one,” says Josh. “It’s so raw, he’s so edgy in it, that’s what’s appealing. The lyrics are so sinister as well.”
“Sixteen Saltines should be first on the album,” says Ross. “No, it shouldn’t be there at all,” says Pete. “It’s like a roundabout where you get sick on it. I like Blunderbuss. It’s the moment when your mam and dad stop the car and the playground is there.”
“And Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy is when you’re actually in the playground,” says Ross. “It’s very smart, the Hip (Eponymous) thing. It’s not hippopotamus, it’s Hip-brackets- Eponymous-close brackets Poor Boy. I think it’s quite George Harrisony.”
“Solo George – especially when he gets into it,” says Evan. “But I’m not crazy about the drum production. I’m not sure whether there’s brushes on that or not. I only have one drum sound and it’s Bobby Elliot. I like the drums to be really sharp, really harsh, very like the first two Hollies albums.”
“It’s like the drums here were recorded in a field,” says Pete. “I think he was like: I want to get a feel for the song rather than get a perfect sound, a perfect production.”
“It’s almost like a childish melody,” says Josh. “It’s like a lullaby or a seesaw, and it’s really catchy.”
“It’s got a lot of Ronnie Lane too,” says Pete. “He did a thing called The Passing Show where he’d bring a sort of circus around performing.
“And I think the album itself is quite Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, quite late Small Faces. Some of it’s good but some of it’s a bit superfluous.”
SHADES OF WHITE
We switch to Blunderbuss. “Folk Zeppelin,” says Josh. “He’s not stealing a song exactly, but you can see his influences. I think lyrically he has something new to say because he’s very personal about it.”
“Yeah, self-confessional,” says Pete. “There’s definitely a lot of variety on the album. It should have been called Shades of White.”
“He’s moving on with this record,” says Josh. “He’s not sticking to the same thing and then it gets boring and just seems manufactured. All his influences are still fantastic influences. I’d say he can do nearly any genre, he seems that kind of artist where whatever he does he just goes for it and doesn’t do it half-heartedly.”
“Like Bruce Springsteen,” says Evan.
“Or Loose Windscreen, as I like to call him,” says Pete. “You can see the influence of Quadrophenia on this, by the way. And Weep Themselves to Sleep is quite like Underture in Tommy.”
“Yeah, it’s very Whoesque,” says Evan.
“He has that E to D chord trick,” says Josh. “That’s a very Who thing. It’s like he’s staying in E but . . . ”
“Suggesting chords rather than actually playing them,” says Evan.
“Exactly,” says Josh. “And Trash Tongue Talker is basically like Apeman by The Kinks,” says Evan.
Sorry to interrupt, says The Ticket, but you guys seem to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. Where does it comes from? “An encyclopaedia,” says Ross.
For the next hour we sit there nodding moronically to a brilliant, effortless, free-flowing four-man tutorial on the blues aesthetic. After which Ross, Josh, Pete and Evan return to their instruments and send us off with a sneak preview of a couple of self-penned songs they’ve been working on. The songs are good. Damn good.
Sweet Jesus, says we to ourselves as we hit the road for Dublin. What just happened back there?