Politics and comedy have been fornicating together so much of late that the timing of Man & The Echo’s eponymous debut album couldn’t be more ripe.
Until now, the Warrington foursome had only scattered out a handful of singles since a name change and complete oeuvre overhaul in 2013, and they haven’t pussyfooted on topics or titles.
Last year’s Honeysucker flicked derisive daggers at the Tories with spins like, “A Tory toff gets in by being silly on the telly”. On another single, the witty I Don’t Give A F**k What You Reckon was perhaps prudently, coming from an unknown entity, reserved for the b-side.
Chutzpah and despair at British modern life under the government follow through on to the LP then. The tart, working-class anecdotes of factories, rough wedding receptions and taxis are nothing new though, nor the alacritous delivery. But their cabaret showboating ends up working a few minor wonders on you.
Latter-day Jam, when they were soul merchants, and Arctic Monkeys are two clear touchpoints for the band. Not least because Alex Turner set free the idea that northerners can embrace their northern-ness – even more than Jarvis Cocker did. It’s hard imagining singer Gaz Roberts mouthing “other” as “uther” on the opening track Distance Runner if we were in early 2005. Still, as the keyboards flash in all tinsel-curtains-at-a-working-men’s-club, it’s clear that M&TE delineate their own world. And it’s not always what you’d expect from an indie group around today.
Piano, funk and a wash of strings pull together on Operation Margarine to produce an experience that on first listen sounds like a parody of blue-eyed soul from the 70s. Personally Yours, a slow-stepping cautionary tale about picking the wrong bride, moves on a few years to when slinky basslines were a thing in the 80s. A falsetto lead and close harmony backing vocals josh the whole premise of the song even before you latch on to the lyrics, “Your family were aghast at the choice you made,” and later on, “The slagging off her family, calling her rough”. It’s all to ripping effect.
Clashes between the frivolous instruments yet earnest message was once labelled as ‘Trojan music’, because aside from the prevailing wackiness, they have their grievances to trumpet.
The polemical axe comes thwacking down on the Establishment’s skull on the loony Care Routine with a rallying, “They don’t care about you/your family/people slogging their guts off!” megaphoned from the off. (One can hear a salivating Russell Brand in the background wondering where to plant the song in his next documentary.) Whereas on On Holidays, the headache is beset by working-life mundanity. “I’ve got a f***ing boring life/I need a f***ing boring break from it!”, Roberts yaps in the breakout ending.
They can do the seriously silly, yes — the album in parts is akin to a giant pair of jazz hands — but equally they can do the seriously pretty. A lover seeing a lover off on the vocally glowing Goodnight To Arms, the often heady keyboards wound down to a soft stroke on The Cold is Stronger Than You Are and Room With a View.
Jokesters or not, this album gets our vote.