Not much point in trying to compare notes with Tijinder Singh on outsiderism: as an Asian man in a highly Westernised field he’s experienced prejudice from pretty much every camp with an interest, his mere existence in the public eye a lightning rod for snap judgements and bile since forming Cornershop in the early nineties.
He’s risen to the antagonism by taking his own path whenever an easier option seemed available. When, in 1998 for instance, Norman Cook’s vivacious remix of Brimful Of Asha unexpectedly made the band household names, his response was to form the hip-hop influenced side project Clinton and now, in the midst of radical changes affecting the entire media landscape, Cornershop return after an eight year absence with England Is A Garden, music dispatched in a long playing format which the singer has confessed he knows, ‘no-one gives a shit about anymore’.
It’s a record which is unashamedly out of time, rolling up influences from Marc Bolan to the Muscle Shoals alumni whilst Singh casts a weary eye over a country with which he has an increasingly love-hate relationship following the Brexit referendum. There’s still the same streak of mischief however which found him burning a picture of Morrissey outside his former record label HQ almost twenty years ago, nowhere more pronounced than with Everywhere That Wog Army Roam provocatively boasting a word from the colonial past. The song itself is emblematic of the band’s Trojan Horse approach to their audience, possessing a deft, soulful calypso tilt whilst the words archly call out the selective demonisation of second and third generation immigrants by a scrofulous mainstream media.
Sometimes the polemics are easier to spot than others, the tabla and amiable flute of the title-track not giving up its subliminal nod to the strains of a post-European island, but the Faces-eque jams of I’m A Wooden Soldier froth with a lilting pacifist sentiment, and the glorious opener St. Marie Under Canon scolds the colonialism which seems to have become a tawdry national addiction.
Such a swingin’ noise, in the face of a cultural lockdown that started years before the more recent one imposed for public safety, transposes our ever deepening fascination with the musical past with a maddened view of an uncertain future. It’s retro everything, as One Uncareful Lady Owner chatters seventies style with East-West hybridity, and the exceptional blues-laden grind of No Rock Save In Roll paying tribute to Singh’s midlands birthplace as the ground zero some fifty years ago of heavy metal.
With him in this pessimistic frame of mind – and yet making such an uplifting record in spite of it all – you have to wonder whether England Is A Garden marks a full stop in Cornershop as a project. If, as seems likelym it’s a while until we hear from them again, this raucous send-off is at the very least a good time that will stay around for a long time.