(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Recording review, The Indelicates, Diseases of England (2013)

Provocative attitude and dystopian snark

Julia and Simon Indelicate follow a capricious muse, one less concerned with musical consistency than with attitude. Their projects may not sound alike beyond a love for the theatrical, but each one trolls for audience response and hopes for a certain degree of outrage. 2011's David Koresh Superstar introduced me to The Indelicates, impressing me with their surprisingly nuanced perspective and strong narrative voice. It was a provocative work, which seems to be the band's forte. Diseases of England has a similar musical theatre vibe, but it differs in a couple of key ways. DKS tells an American story and the music reflects that nationalistic sound. The new album fittingly jumps the pond back to the band's home turf and samples a wide swath of British music, ranging from Morrissey to Mumford and Sons. And rather than taking DKS's soundtrack approach, Diseases of England drops the constraint of a story, serving more as a melodramatic concept album. The Indelicates dish up a jaundiced view of modern England, highlighting cynicism, vulgarity, and disconnection as the titular diseases. Fortunately, it's no whining, petulant screed; they dodge that sin with their clever, satirical lyrics and solid musical execution.

The album opens with a great electro-rock track, "Bitterness is the Appropriate Response". Like a modern dance remix of Bauhaus, Gothic synth-pop vocals float over a beat-heavy rock mix. The band excessively packs the track with ear-catching flair: DJ-style transformer chops, grungy guitar, and shimmery keyboard layers. This sonic rejection of DKS's aesthetic makes it clear that they aren't concerned about consistency between the two albums. With that point out of the way, they really hit their stride on the second track, "Pubes", a cynical run-down of temptation and vice:
The places you'll go, the things you'll get
For a couple of pubes on the internet
The message is nothing new, everybody knows sex sells, but the tune catchy as hell. Updated power pop seasoned with a taste of David Bowie, the music holds you captive to the crass lyrics. The breakdown bridge serves up a wicked descending bass and dial-up modem chirps. I have to wonder, though, whether people even recognize that sound any more.

A couple of songs later, the Indelicates have dropped their harder musical edge to channel an emotional Morrissey vibe on "Le Godemiché Royal". The piano and bassoon initially cast the piece as a reverie, albeit one of obsessive love:
How can they hate you when you're beautiful?
And make a sewer from your scent?
How sour, how loveless these people are
How cruel, disfigured, and unspent
The track develops a lush layered sound, but the love curdles as the obsession darkens and takes on a disturbed edge. Think of this as the flip side of "Pubes". Both songs deal with allure's shadow, although the lyrics here are more circumspect (despite the title, which translates to "The Royal Dildo"). If "Pubes" warns the audience that they're being played, this piece's voyeuristic stalker perspective and his slipping control sketch out how sexual power games can go wrong.

The band continues their catalog of societal disease with a drag blues take on class warfare ("Class") and a moody gypsy blues story of ill use, packed with jaded cliches and bitter irony ("All You Need Is Love"). Their dystopian view finds its nadir with "Everything Is Just Disgusting". It starts out with a blues organ playing a saturated descending riff. The stark, echoed vocals remind me of a host of Brit-wave bands. They sound detached, loaded with ennui and a touch of contempt. As the song expands, the singing picks up intensity until the raging disdain comes to dominate. As Simon Indelicate spits out his loathing, the accompanying sweetness of the strings is like a fake smile that never reaches the eyes.

The last two tracks, "Not Alone" and "Dovahkiin", close out the album with the same kind of unsubtle earnestness that Mumford and Sons are prone to. Showing better judgement, the Indelicates show some moderation and the tunes form a nice wrap-up. "Dovahkiin" is the stronger of the two, painting its portrait of Britain as a pathetic loser in the unkindest terms. The ringing guitar solo transforms the mood into a redemptive ending that sounds beautiful, but I'm not so sure their subject deserves that closure.

Ultimately, Diseases of England is a simpler artistic statement than David Koresh Superstar, taking fewer chances. Koresh may be a bit obscure for the Indelicate's British audience, but their send-up was fairly transgressive for most Americans. Railing against modern culture, even with vulgarity and wit, is inherently less challenging. Still, it's an enjoyable romp across a wide variety of styles, with plenty of memorable songs.


  1. Great review, now I am intrigued.

  2. Definitely give them a listen. Their Kickstarter rewards for "Diseases of England" were also fairly amusing.

  3. One day, one day the heavens will open and someone will actually copy what's in the lyric book for "Bitterness Is the Appropriate Response" into a lyric website. I love the album, I do, but the more driving songs have a lot of bits where you just can't make out the lyrics.

    It works amazingly well on the round part in Dirty Diana, but when the focal parts are obscured, it's a problem.

  4. It can be a challenge to mine the words from their dense, enveloping home, but I find it intriguing, even when I'm wrong about a line;-)