, February 14th, 2013 09:27
Babybird is dead. Stephen Jones killed it. People probably thought it'd already died when Jones started releasing music under his own name back in 2002, but this melancholia-driven skewed-pop act were still active up until early 2012. The name that the music is tagged with doesn't really matter though, as Babybird (the band), Stephen Jones (the bloke), Baby Bird (the solo project), Death of the Neighbourhood (the other solo project) and Black Reindeer (that's the new solo project), are pretty much interchangeable placeholders for Jones' very singular musical vision.
The possibility of potential confusion and discography chaos feels like it could appeal to a man like Jones. With a public perception that simultaneously balances being the writer of that lovely love song used in nappy adverts and a cynical pop-consciousness torpedo, he remains a pop music oddity. Like many cult artists with a single world-famous song, Babybird's particular albatross is an avian corpse that exists only in the mind of his core audience. Then there's his twitter account, a series of snapshots, pictorial and written, of pop culture's self-generating unintentional grotesques. He's probably left-handed pop's best crooner, bellower and most underrated proponent of sha-la-la-la-ing. Having only been recently euthanized, Babybird's body is still warm enough for Outtakes to not feel like a piece of aural necrophilia.
There will of course be those who'll be suspicious at anyone offering a posthumous self-release of 33 tracks of unused material. This record's title might well be Outtakes, but while it does consist of unused songs or versions of tracks from 2006 to 2011, there's nothing here that deserved to stay on the cutting room floor. Jones' songs are extended pop snapshots of a mood or a life. Outtakes is an offering of Loach-like character pieces that with the use of varispeeding turns Jones' into something between 'Camille' era Prince and Mr. Benn – Jones becoming a housewife, a 70 year old man and couch bound nut job rambling on about Dick Cheney.
Ranging from anxious and lost internal monologues ('The Little Things') to windows-open-arms-wide declarations of love ('Shoutabout'), Outtakes manages to incredibly delicate, as if constructed with a shaky fingered melancholy and buoyant pop. One minute Jones is dripping bile into nursery rhymes like snake venom into cheap supermarket cola, next he's a completely lost soul with a below radar vocal. Principally lauded for his cynicism, there's actually a clogged-artery reality-infected romantic heart that underpins everything Jones does here. That Stephen Jones stayed the course, by refusing to twee up his beautifully forlorn pop into something for the Belle and Sebastian thick specs set, remains largely unacknowledged. Lyrically balancing a heart that's never been broken and one that's sellotaped together and covered in fingerprints and fluff, Babybird's songs are often bittersweet and love dazed (both good and bad); a combination that would be unbearably noxious in anyone who didn't have Jones' knack for both investment and remove.
Reinforcing these ideas with his own approximations of weirdo hip hop and broke balladeering, Jones' talent lies in creating three minute arty pop songs that manage to sum up a lifetime of ourbouros tail chasing regret or happiness. Structure-wise, while the songs aren't about complexity, flowing 'simply' in ye olde verse/chorus/verse, it's common to hear Jones placing his own mini-spanner-in-the-works sounds into the mix. There are spiky loops that shuffle underneath the melodies, notes of Durutti guitar, silverfish-slippery electronic effects and knackered equipment sounds that are edging edge ever closer to the surface, Jones never shy of using space in a song. There seems little point in clogging a perfectly good open space with with verdigris vinyl hiss. There's also nothing here to distinguish it from what people might imagine a 'real studio' Babybird album to sound like. The line between demo version and real version doesn't really exist in terms of Jones' music; simplicity has always been the keyword.