Sunday, 13 November 2011

REVIEW: Babybird - 'The Pleasures Of Self Destruction'

It certainly is frustrating when music reviewers feel the need to refer to 'You're Gorgeous' every time Babybird release something new. But the fact that their biggest hit still overshadows the rest of their work is both a good and bad thing. Bad because so many amazing and far superior songs have been ignored and overlooked, and most people still think of Babybird as a "one hit wonder" when they do in fact deserve to be regarded as national treasures. But then again the fact that all those lazy narrow minded "average" people still only remember the big hit brings a sense of satisfaction to the faithful fans like me, due to the comfort of knowing that we've been enjoying something magical that lots of unlucky people have missed out on due to their own ignorance. 

However this is only partly true, as the music of Babybird is more popular than it would appear at first glance, even if you are one of those "everyday people": they've enjoyed two top 30 albums, become the favourite band of megastar Johnny Depp (who jumped at the chance of signing them to his Unison record label), and if you've ever watched Gordon Ramsey's 'The F Word' then you will have heard Babybird's 2000 single of the same name being used as the show's theme tune. The band is essentially a musical vehicle for Stephen Jones, a prolific and very talented songwriter whose style can swing effortlessly from dark and seedy to soft and sugary while producing the sort of instinctive and catchy melodies that so many artists struggle to find. Last year Jones and the band returned with 'Ex Maniac', the first Babybird album in four years and its follow up comes just over a year after its predecessor.


At first 'The Pleasures Of Self Destruction' seems to hint that this may be the dark, wicked masterpiece that its title suggests, along with the front sleeve depicting a distorted face with two fingers pointed at the head miming a gun. But it turns out the tone of this album is mostly light and lovelorn, only occasionally do we see the "bad old man" of old rear his ugly but most enjoyably evil head. This twisted and unsettling element of Jones's music is at the forefront of opening track 'Jesus Stag Night Club', the lyrical imagery documenting Christianity and debauchery, while musically offering a filth-covered blast of mean brass, angry guitars, distorted bass and 'Sympathy For The Devil'-esque "woo woo"s. 


Following it is the splendid album highlight 'Beautiful Haze', with its soaring chorus, heartfelt vocals and smart touches of piano. It's a finely written love song that comes across as elegant and yet slightly mysterious, unlike 'The Best Day Of Our Lives' which begins promisingly but is let down by a repetitive and unremarkable chorus. 'I Love Her' is definitely one to steer clear of if you're not a fan of the sugary sweet side of Babybird as Jones delivers and unabashed paean to his daughter. The "sha la la la la" backing vocals recall 'Bugged''s 'The Way You Are' and the melodies are lovely, but again the chorus is rather lacking. It's touching and truly sweet stuff, there's no doubt a lot of love went into this song but such sentimentality doesn't always translate into Jones's best music. 

But when he gets it right, the results can be stunning, and one such moment is the glorious 'Not Love' which provides one of the album's finest moments, using a simple piano melody and other basic ingredients to build a wonderful verse and lead into an unforgettable chorus. 'Can't Love You Anymore' grows in a similar way, a dark love song that holds a poignant double meaning, but despite a spine-tingling moment where Jones raises his voice up a tone during the brilliant verse, it falls flat when the chorus collapses under its own weight through trying to be as massively emotional as possible. 


'Don't Wake Me' takes a different route, drifting by in a hazy fashion with a simplified but dreamy chorus before the satisfyingly creepy 'I'm Not A Killer' provides the album with a much-needed injection of sinister vibes, mixing things up with tinny hip hop beats, a filthy bassline and bursts of striking brass before ending with chaotic free jazz horns. 'www.song' exists in an even darker place and combines Jones's talent for crafting beautiful pop melodies with disturbing and creepy lyrics, as he documents a perverted internet predator stalking one of his victims. It encapsulates what Jones does best and it proves to be another wonderful moment on this record, but sadly it's followed by 'A Little More Each Day', a syruppy ballad with a cloying and tedious chorus that ranks as the worst offender here. 'Song For The Functioning Alcoholic' works in the same way as 'Ex Maniac''s 'Bastard', using a basic melody and blunt lyrics to create something simple and very catchy. However the chorus is another big let down. When Jones comes up with a lyric like "now I'm crucified to a Christmas tree in the shopping mall" it's obvious that he's capable of coming up with a much better chorus than "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine".

Thankfully the final two tracks work brilliantly and bring out the very best in the piano ballad direction that a lot of this album takes. 'The World Is Ours' is elegant, charming and absolutely pours out emotion, the arrangement beautifully toned down and every word sounding truly passionate when Jones's gentle croon lifts itself into a soaring cry. The closing 'Remember Us' is similarly minimal, made up of piano, strings and another skyrocketting vocal, with a soft hint of brass arriving during the final chorus to magical effect. This song will have you in floods of tears if you're trying to get over a break up, that's for sure.


Moments like that may be wonderful, but overall 'the Pleasures Of Self Destruction' is a slightly disappointing album from a great artist, but with at least five Babybird classics it certainly isn't a failure, and some people may warm to the tracks that I'm not too keen on. There is a great sadness at the heart of this collection of songs, a record that tells stories of failed romance, lost love and bitter regrets. when Jones is at his best the results are nothing short of incredible, but overall this album is not quite consistent enough to be ranked as one of Babybird's best. But it's still well worth investing in for those magic moments that this truly gifted musician is capable of. 7

(UPDATE NOVEMBER 2012 - Over a year after this album's release and it has grown on me massively. A brilliant record that now gets an 8 out of 10)

Listen to the best tracks from 'The Pleasures Of Self Destruction' for free here (Spotify needed): http://open.spotify.com/user/115811126/playlist/33sc2OZikvcGsJ5m5EW798

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