Sunday, April 01, 2007

"A melancholy emblem of parish cruelty"

There's no doubt about it, John Peel favourites Half Man Half Biscuit are a damn funny band.

But what makes them so good is not just those oh-so-British oh-so-scathing lyrics, but something rather technical and dull: it's how perfectly they fit the lyrics around the melodies. For example, the first line of Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo (which is all about The Libertines' eponymous second album) goes:

I could've put my head in a bucket full of porridge and moaned about the hospital parking scheme;
I would've saved £14 that I'd just splashed out on your second album.

It's the kind of lyric that most would struggle to shoehorn into an actual, y'know, song. But singer/writer Nigel Blackwell carries it off with complete ease, as if the track could begin with nothing but this strange couplet.

But this is not to underestimate Blackwell's lyrical skills. He's also capable of some surprisingly poetic moments. Towards the end of Bad Review, a song about a band who've just received an unfavourable write-up ("Page thirty-two, it's a bad review / Oh Lord. My girfriend's fuming"), the band start chanting "Boo hoo, what's to do? / It's a bad review" and Blackwell suddenly launches into the following lines:

The fearsome hollow boom of the older boys in the deep end,
Green shoots of recovery shriveled up in harsh tomorrows.
Left to pick dry sticks and mumble to myself;
A melancholy emblem of parish cruelty.

That last line really is the tops. After they played the song on Peel's show in the October of 1996, it prompted the DJ to come out with his occasionally-quoted epigram, "When I die, I want them to be buried with me."

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