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Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band
Adiós Señor Pussycat Patrick Clarke , November 7th, 2017 16:22

From dearly beloved Mick Head, the first new songs in more than a decade and the first album with his excellent new band.

The tale of Michael Head, leader of some of the foremost groups in Scouse music mythology, is often told. The man behind Shack, The Pale Fountains and The Strands is often vaunted as the nation’s great ‘lost’ songwriter, whose brilliance was halted on multiple occasions just as he was on the verge of mass acclaim. Whether through his personal struggles (Head has overcome heroin addiction twice), shady industry types or plain bad luck, he has remained a heralded cult figure rather than the lauded musical leviathan he should have been.

The records he did produce hold up to that mythology. Shack’s Waterpistol and H.M.S. Fable from 1995 and 1999 and The Strands’ The Magical World of The Strands in particular remain high in the British, let alone Liverpudlian, canon. Those two Shack albums, above all, should be held in the same esteem as literally any songwriter of Head’s day; they’re streets ahead of pretty much everything Britpop’s fading flame produced in the latter half of that decade.

Adiós Señor Pussycat, the first full-length LP with his current group The Red Elastic Band, feels most akin to H.M.S. Fable and Waterpistol. It captures that same intense melancholy, the blend of the unflinchingly confessional and the bottomless warmth that makes Head so loved, his unfussy but beautiful words delivered by his low, cracked vocal imbued with lashings of shy soul. Head is vaunted as one of the great British songwriters for a reason, and never has this been so apparent as on this sensitive work, lilting from one emotion to the next with a grand but smooth swing.

Instrumentally, the Red Elastic Band match their frontman. Just as Head’s songwriting is pure but unfussy, so too is his backing on Adiós Señor Pussycat. There is nothing bordering on boundary-pushing when it comes to the sonics of this record - the band stick to sparse piano ballads and sweeps of guitar. Head’s groups have pushed the boat out sonically in the past (for the vast desolation of Shack’s masterpiece ‘Streets of Kenny’, for example) but there’s nothing of such grandiose ambition here. The Red Elastic Band are a more understated bunch.

From time to time it works against them - the piano ballad ‘Winter Turns To Spring’ feels pretty plain, while sometimes there’s a frustrating sense that the band are pulling back from the brink of something altogether more magnificent, as on the almost-massive ‘Queen of All Saints’. On all occasions, however, they’re rescued from mundanity by the sweeping charisma of Michael Head.

And when it clicks, The Red Elastic Band can be utterly superb. This album is not quite as comprehensively brilliant as H.M.S. Fable, for example, but the occasional flourish of pure, unremitting beauty on Adiós Señor Pussycat is every ounce as transcendent as anything Mick Head has ever produced. The penultimate track ‘What’s The Difference’ is the absolute zenith. With each subtle change of tempo, Head and his band pile on layer after layer of gorgeous intensity, swelling and breaking with a knowing charm that swims in deep, opaque melancholy, imbued with a purity of emotion that’s rare indeed. It’s moments like this that cement Michael Head as one of the greats.

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