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Working Men's Club
S/T Matthew Horton , November 23rd, 2020 09:06

A quick reshuffle makes Working Men's Club a far sharper proposition, finds Matthew Horton

Whether by luck or ruthless, hard-nosed design, in two short years as teen frontman of Todmorden’s Working Men’s Club, Syd Minsky-Sargeant has sloughed off a couple of band members who didn’t share his electro-vision and found three more who do. Out went guitarist Giulia Bonometti and drummer Jake Bogacki to pursue irreconcilable ambitions, and in came bassist Liam Ogburn, third Drenge man Rob Graham and The Moonlandingz’ Mairead O’Connor to bring some messed-up harmony and a whole bank of synths. They’ve recalibrated fast. The early line-up’s AA-sided debut single – jerky, swaggering concord of contradictions ‘Bad Blood’ and angular, Postcard-y ‘Suburban Heights’ – pricked up ears but pulled punches. The full album lands them.

It delivers an impressive belt around the chops from the start, with ‘Valleys’ building from eardrum-realigning bass to a full-force techno-rock wig-out. The song’s roots are pretty plain. This is New Order’s ‘Fine Time’ with the kitchen sink chucked in, bringing with it an 808 State breakdown and a flat vocal from Minsky-Sargeant that sweeps the emotional spectrum from The Flying Lizards’ ‘Money’ to any of Phil Oakey’s more robotic displays. Synth bass gets squelchier until your boots are sucked right off your feet by pure-grade 1989 indie-acid. The frenetic ‘A.A.A.A.’ follows with pulsating electronic drums, a beastly bottom end, bracing nihilism (“The world sinks beneath / A futile existence”) and processed shrieks. It’s all exhausting, in an ecstatic kind of way. The brutal three-song introduction continues with a somewhat premature eulogy for the Bard of Salford on the eponymous ‘John Cooper Clarke’, strutting through its funky phases like SAULT if they were recording in a disused warehouse in the Baltic north (and maybe they are – who knows?), brittle but somehow slinky, slipping your discs.

If anything though, Working Men’s Club are most jarring when they’re just conventional. ‘White Rooms And People’ has an American 1980s radio-rock propulsion to its blank disaffection, a transitional John Hughes movie scene flavour, lacking the frosty hip distance of the album’s killer opening trio. ‘Outside’ is dream synth-pop, a bit surf, a bit psych. Pleasant, but Working Men’s Club are at their best when they bite.

They bare their teeth with slavering glee on ‘Cook A Coffee’, an attack on enduring, wire-coiffed cockroach of political journalism Andrew Neil that might’ve been oblique if Minsky-Sargeant wasn’t so keen to go around telling everybody exactly who it’s about. “Tune into the BBC / And watch me / Defecate,” is an image to solder onto your retina, a direct summation of the kind of discourse we’re all enjoying these days. But it isn’t threatening. “You look like a c* / You bark like a bitch / But I wouldn’t say that to your face,” he admits – which is quite sweet, really. Don’t sink to their level. They’re defecating on TV, after all.

Minsky-Sargeant’s rhythmic drawl – not quite singing, but definitely not rapping – is the right vehicle for this kind of sneer. He’s very Mark E Smith on ‘Cook A Coffee’ and even more so on ‘Be My Guest’, ploughing his own oblivious furrow as guitars squall, judder and creep, forming a black tar tsunami that breaks into eddies of white noise, flares of machine-gun rocktronics. But Working Men’s Club aren’t quite The Fall; they’re just falling. Oddly, an influence that becomes increasingly obvious is LCD Soundsystem – and let’s not pretend James Murphy hasn’t heard plenty of MES in his time. The layering of kinetic elements on ‘Valleys’, the post-punk disco and multi-tracked chants of ‘John Cooper Clarke’, the cowbell on ‘Teeth’, it’s all oh-so-LCD, or whatever Murphy nicked them from in the first place. The new wave of new wave of new wave of

So you think you know where you are. Then along comes 12-and-a-half-minute closing suite ‘Angel’, which admittedly jumps off from one of those post-punk grooves (after a sprinkle of OMD-like melody), but then finds some new shapes in flowery luminous synths, spidery paisley guitars, elemental eastern mysticism and – every 12-minute final track has it – motorik rhythm. It gets locked in so hard it essentially becomes Hawkwind halfway through and that’s the machine we ride to the end. Not devastatingly original then, but like the rest of this intrepid, cocksure debut, it’s all just fantastically listenable, decisive, a promise of fun things to come.