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The Scaramanga Six: Chronica
Concept albums are all the rage, space age themes that hope to comment on a grand scale often the order of the day. Not here, not The Scaramanga Six, this foursome (the first of many a dichotomy) bundling you into the boot of their fourth-hand car and laughing manically as you tumble into the land of Chronica. There won't be a fawn there to greet you, Mr Tumnus is too fragile for this world. More likely you'll be lying on the ground in a scummy pub where the local band are crucifying the hearing of all in attendance, their fledgling attempts to cast a musical spell falling on now (hopefully) deaf ears. Yes, The Scarra's have created a world to tell their stories, but the big picture they want to shine a light on is full of the small moments, the insignificances that fill the every day. As the clowns run the asylum and masquerade as world leaders, we continue continuing…
As you'd expect, this journey begins by entering "The Narnials Of Chronica" (I'm sold already), the short unsettlingness of ever building chaos making way for an Adam Ant clatter of drums and arm posturing. Don't be scared off though, "Somehow" already seeing the brothers Morricone (Paul (vocals and guitar), Steven (vocals and bass)) sharpening their hooks, biting melodies in deep and offering up choruses of celebration. It's maybe all a bit mad, but it's a good mad, a welcoming mad, a reassuringly bonkers of a hatstand. And yet it's not, these tracks, split across two discs of ever shifting landscapes and trivialities that make the world go round, being honed, crafted and precise.
Highlights don't just come thick and fast, they rush at you as though you're the main character in an action movie made of Plasticine and dynamite; "As We Hit The Stage" the fanfare of the arriving hero through harmony vocals (a beautiful recurring feature throughout) and the utterly infectious rhythms from Gareth Champion on drums. "The Caretaker", however, is a prime example of what the place known as Chronica is all about. Atmospheres built and doubts created as you feel the mood change and the intentional uncertainties grow, before a confident thump and slap throws us into the oblivion of "Man Or Marionette". Are we living or just watching??? Either way it sounds like someone picked up Jackdaw4 and mashed them face first into a spaghetti western; massive guitar strikes sparking off infectious vocals and strangely spooky keyboard lines. An aspect "Owned" takes full custodial preference over, an ever so patient growing tension slowly releasing mid-song before the guitars and drums suddenly stamp hard on the kick starter and whisk you at full speed into hair raising thrills. If you're not hollering "ooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnneeeeeeeeeeeeed!" by song's end then some evil entity truly has already taken control of your senses.
I can't pretend that "Bark Or Bite" won't challenge you to stay the course, after all the crazy guitar lines do seem to be echoing vocals that are, well, mimicking a dog… But then the swirling beat and clarion call of "Can't Stop Won't Stop" pulls you back in with a big stubbly snog and the merest hint of a bongo bashing. That "This Is Chronica" then has the temerity to blatantly lift the scale crushing crescendo of "In The Court Of The Crimson King" and not care that you've noticed, just makes you smile all the more as disc one stops in its tracks.
As disc two takes on the fight, the saxophone infused psychedelic poptacular "Flying Bastards" prove to be no less uncompromising. If you're aboard now, you're in for good, if you're not, then you never will be. Yes, it's "Fight Or Flight"! Another drum rattler where the guitars of Julia Arnez strike to the heart as the superb production allows the crazy to sound cohesive and the pace at which you're presented ideas that remind of everything from Buffalo Tom and Hüsker Dü to The Dead Kennedys and The Cardiacs via XTC and King Crimson to The Knack and Abba, to simply be The Scaramanga Six. If you want pop, you got it. Rock? We got that too. Prog? Yeah, sure thing, it's in the corner necking with punk and trying to form a band with indie-pop. Don't believe me? Then take a ride in the hugely catchy "Dirty Subaru" before being scared witless by "The Stabby Fork". Oddly, "The Apartment" becomes a spoken word piece that turns the focus on modern day social isolation. Unsettling doesn't come close to covering it, but then the same can be said for the horror spike of "The Creeps" as we combine bizarrely stark lyrics to an early Porcupine Tree 'trip' and b movie sensibilities; "My Pet Hate" expanding the theme into an urgent thundercrack of drums and weirdness, oh such irresistibly jazzy weirdness… With "Cheap Guitar" an ode to burgeoning six string talent discarded (think a less shimmering Tim Bowness) and "Soaring" an upbeat celebratory ending that burrows deep under the skin, even beginning to try and convey what's really going on here would take a review ten times more lengthy than this (and if you've stayed with me so far, then more power to you!).
Doff your cap. Few bands could pull this off. Fewer would even try. The Scaramanga Six have created more than a double album here, they've created a world. One that's immediately recognisable and simultaneously remote and one that's worryingly like and unlike the one you and I are standing on right now. The Scaramanga Six aren't prog rock, but Chronica may well be the most progressive album I've heard all year. Maybe longer.
1. The Narnials Of Chronica
3. As We Take the Stage
4. The Caretaker
5. Man Or Marionette
7. Bark Or Bite
8. What's The Time Mister Wolf
9. Can't Stop Won't Stop
10. This Is Chronica
1. Flying Bastards
2. Fight Or Flight
3. Dirty Subaru
4. Stabby Fork
5. The Apartment
6. Cheap Guitar
7. A Cold One At The Wit's End
8. Splendour's Faded Homeless
9. Human Oddity
10. The Creeps
11. My Pet Hate
Added: November 19th 2017
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: The Scaramanga Six
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