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Half Man Half Biscuit
No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut Mick Middles , June 1st, 2018 12:46

Contemporary culture has obligingly stepped right into the sardonic sights of Blackwell and Crossley. On this new album, they lock target and do not miss

I seem to have been in on the joke since Half Man Half Biscuit's time began, 34 years and 14 albums ago. Through golden years of mid-80s frenetic Wirral joy and angst. At times you didn't even need to get beyond the titles – ‘Dickie Davies Eyes’, ‘The Trumpton Riots’, ‘The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman’, and the classic ‘All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit’.

Back then, amid an exploding era where a new flourish of guitar bands battled against masters of house and dance, the uncompromising sardonic attack of Half Man Half Biscuit provided welcome relief. Like a blinding flash of white comedic light, they perceptively mirrored the darkness of life in the 80s. Mancunians such as I will always fondly recall bombastic outings at Manchester's International and Hacienda venues. Woe betide if we started to take ourselves a mite too seriously. This was Wirral (technically in Cheshire) on the rampage – this was 'Tranmere' - and, frankly you couldn't argue with that. In his Merseyside tome, Wondrous Place, Paul Du Noyer notes: ”The genius of Half Man Half Biscuit is that they took enough Scouse culture to give themselves an edge but kept their distance.” Herein lies the key. Far from wallowing in rather trite Scouse-speak, the lyrics have never strayed from evocative insight, albeit delivered with the spice of the street.

Half Man Half Biscuit stalwarts Nigel Blackwell and his mate and muse Neil Crossley always seemed to have the smart handle on things. “Bad review, I got a bad review… and the girlfriend's fuming,” attacked Blackwell at one point. Perhaps the perfect riposte to an aggressive music press? One thing is certain, there isn't a band member in the world who cannot connect with such emotive simplicity.

No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub… is no less than a thrilling re-alignment of the band's wry, stoic stance. Taken at face value, the title alone is a perfectly balanced attack on hipster gentrification. The darkness here was not particularly obvious on the musically accessible notions of 2004's Urge For Offal which appeared to rock out, as if in a state of general disgust. That disgust remains, although the tricky road traversed here is to pull back from “stating the bleedin obvious”.

We all feel we are sinking in these culturally barren times – in the mainstream, at least – but how do you present a song called ‘Knobheads On Quiz Shows’ without falling just a little too in-line with obvious everyday emotions? Well, Half Man Half Biscuit simply ramp up the guitars and blast through. It's a welcome attack, particularly in an age when wearisome ex-boyband members inexplicably gain full-page reviews – week after week – in The Guardian. There is a significant sonic reversal here, as the band's attack now seems curiously thunderous. Never before have Blackwell's lyrics seemed so achingly poignant… and just at the point where they might have drifted. Suddenly, amid the drivel, this is a band who have shifted into overdrive.

Make no mistake, Blackwell's lyricism still lifts from a street that winds its way past the myriad pubs that lead to Tranmere Rovers’ daunting football ground. This is deep South Liverpudlian folklore and Blackwell remains perfectly poised to take that bar-room cynicism to the highest level. One of the great lyricists of our darkening times. Not quite Liverpool. One step beyond and, at once, wryly aloof and piercingly perceptive.

I defy anyone not to immediately warm to a song that begins with the line “Ground control to Monty Don”. This is pulled from the nose of ‘Every Time A Bell Rings’, the song which leads thrillingly towards the album title. No quarter lost here, as that seeping gentrification – even on The Wirral – is vilified with football terrace vengeance. “Get your hedge cut, get your fuckin' hedge cut,” runs the central hook, which should limit FM radio play although I note a number of internet outlets using it to punch out intros to slumbering shows. By this point you are, incredibly, 10 songs into an album that hurtles sweetly through contemporary absurdity.

“What made Columbia famous… made a prick out of you,” spits Blackwell at one point and you can’t be sure if he is referring to the “artisan coffee” he mocks on ‘Every Time A Bell Rings’ or a different kind of substance altogether. Whether the vague reference to Steely Dan's ‘Hey Nineteen’ within that line is intentional or not, one cannot be sure.

Cycling, hiking, dreams of “opening up a roastery in the Keswick area” and Wirral “bat-walks” in Royden Park sit among the pleasingly soft targets in Blackwell's vision. “I'll be going on any-time-I-like-walks,” he sings in response to those bat-walks, neatly batting away sheep-like tendencies of knots of Berghaus marauders who can be found in Britain's myriad country parks.

In a sense, and after a 90s lull, it does appear that contemporary culture has shuffled obligingly within Blackwell's sights. Now he can fire away to his heart’s content. There is more to them than meets the eye. Always had to be.