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The Artful Execution Of Macho Bimbo Ben Graham , July 9th, 2015 08:29

Near the beginning of Brighton Rock, good Catholic girl Rose asks razor-happy teenage misanthrope Pinky if he believes. "Of course it's true," he answers. "Of course there's Hell. Flames and Damnation. Torments."

"And Heaven too," Rose adds anxiously.

"Oh, maybe," Pinky shrugs. "Maybe."

Some 75 years on from Graham Greene's novel, Clowwns are a Brighton band with a similar faith in the existence of evil and eternal damnation, and an equal uncertainty towards the possibility of any time off for good behaviour. Moreover the thuggish, balletic violence of their punkish indie rock also belongs to the tradition of Pinky, Dallow, Cubitt and Spicer, or perhaps even Alex and his droogs from A Clockwork Orange, completed by that other great catholic literary modernist of the mid-twentieth century, Anthony Burgess, in neighbouring Hove in 1962. On Clowwns' long-awaited debut album, Andrew Claridge's guitar swings and slashes like a switchblade, rumbles like an overhead train and squeals like an angry seagull, while the rhythm section of Etienne Rodes (bass) and Damo Waters (drums) provides a tight neo-rockabilly undercarriage for singer Miles Heathfield's urgent hectoring and menacing croon.

Opening track 'She Says I'm A Clown' sits somewhere between the Eighties Matchbox B-line Disaster and the Nightingales, as our unreliable narrator complains of years of abuse from his spouse, his passive-aggressive masochism ending in a sudden burst of violent revenge and a panicked fleeing from the consequences. Gideon Coe favourite 'Trousers' continues the examination of male privilege and expectation, as well as the semiotic connotations of unsuitable leisurewear, while musically suggesting Franz Ferdinand tackling one of those glorious early Adam And The Ants B-sides, like 'Plastic Surgery' or 'Beat My Guest.'   

The Ants influence remains on 'Bow-legged Man', as much in the pop art John Wayne imagery as the yodelling vocals, handclaps and striding fuzz bassline. Though cryptic and elliptic, the lyrics evoke the male role models of a bygone era, the patriarchal, horse-riding loners who never apologised and never explained. Another male archetype- a dark knight hiding in the rooftop shadows, mask protecting him from childhood insecurity, purging sin with Travis Bickle's missionary zeal- surfaces on the epic 'Love Vigilante.' Splinters of post-punk guitar shatter around a repetitive, minimal fuzzed-up disco groove for over six minutes, building and decaying and building again as the hook is relentlessly hammered home.  

Side two of this vinyl-only release opens with the track 'Macho Bimbo' itself, as over a gothic lurch of shifting time signatures and sleazy dynamics, Heathfield implores his "heavy goods mama" to take off his singlet and jersey, hose him down and "throw me down roughshod." Ruminations on "the sashay-swagger of floral print" follow, as the song builds to an epic climax, like Bowie's 'Rock n' roll Suicide' as played by 1980s Bradford squat-punks, complete with mournful colliery brass band-style fanfare. 'We Came to Laugh' is a twisted ballad in the (jugular) vein of John Cale at his prettiest and sickest, and continues the previous track's examination of decadence and reckless hedonism. Rolling couplets like "We came to laugh, to gorge and sup / from hiding plates and willing cups" betray the influence of Dylan Thomas, and 'Shame On You' is an admitted retort to the poet's famous 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.'

Separating them is live favourite 'Idiot Bouncing', its "Do you wanna bounce?" refrain, two-stroke rhythm, and growling guitars tailor-made to incite moshpit tomfoolery, while lyrically confronting the nature of inherent evil and the increasingly redundant function of religion as a means to control this. Combining literary lyricism with equal opportunities rabble-rousing, anthemic melodies and pounding riffs, Clowwns' songs are glorious Trojan horses in the manner of Brighton forebears British Sea Power. And like Graham Greene or Anthony Burgess, Miles Heathfield is an old-fashioned moralist and even something of a puritan, gazing into the modern abyss of hedonism and consumerism with fascinated distaste.

If The Artful Execution Of Macho Bimbo continually returns to themes of gender politics and performance, then it is also troubled by broader notions of moral relativity, and the steamrollering of nuances of meaning in our age of information overload. That Clowwns wrap these concerns in some of the best and brightest pop-rock guitar music of recent years sweetens their uncomfortable analysis immensely. It also gives you something to think about as you idiot bounce towards hell and damnation. Or the other place, maybe, if you jump high enough.