sun 14/07/2024

CD: Half Man Half Biscuit - And Some Fell On Stony Ground | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Half Man Half Biscuit - And Some Fell On Stony Ground

CD: Half Man Half Biscuit - And Some Fell On Stony Ground

Historic collection of scattergun gags

'Sleeve by Jacuzzi after Van Gogh after Millet after Dinner'

Fans of the Birkenhead post-punk humorists are a patient crowd. It’s been two years since the last album (they haven’t been more frequent since the 1990s) and now followers are rewarded not with new music, but, as the title allusively suggests, a collection of B-sides and EPs that are in some cases hard to find elsewhere. Stony ground indeed.

There are some gems here. “Vatican Broadside” – all 30 seconds of it – is still genuinely funny, as is “Hair Like Brian May Blues”. Both songs combine verbal and musical humour in a way few musicians manage. The best of these pieces start with humour, but move on to raw pathos. “Tending the Wrong Grave For 23 Years” and “Ordinary to Enschede”, about betrayal in a relationship, both build sorrow into the joke.

It’s difficult to sing clearly with your tongue in your cheek

However, only the dedicated casual listener is likely to be drawn afresh to the band with such an ancient collection, which a more generous outfit would have included as an extra, alongside new material. Anyone under 50 will need Wikipedia to hand to make the most of this. The cultural figures in the band’s sights include a few old-stagers who are still just about current, such as Brian May and the football commentator Bob Wilson. Otherwise, songs about the late Claire Rayner, footballer Garth Crooks, or the sensitivity of European football referees to the raised stud, are in danger of seeming quaint. “Lark Descending” revolves around another bathetic contrast between Lou Barlow (of Sebadoh) and Ken Barlow (of Coronation Street). Topical?

There’s so much in HMHB that should, in theory, be treasured. Their satire, wit, pastiche, and erudition feel like the antidote to so many familiar pop woes. They weave lyrics, melody and genre together in intelligent, sophisticated ways. Too often, however, they run into an emotional cul-de-sac of bathos. They are probably the only band in the world indebted to both Joy Division and George Formby, but sometimes lack the heartfelt expression of either. Songs such as “Eno Collaboration” go on a journey across the “Andes to the Indies in my undies”, but the wordplay is just a laboured exercise in whimsy. It’s difficult to sing clearly with your tongue in your cheek.

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