❉ Alternately playful and pessimistic, this is an album of the moment.
When asked about their first band, most musicians will remember garage rehearsals and demo tapes. Martin Gordon’s first band was Sparks. Answering a Melody Maker ad for a bass player in 1973, he recorded the seminal album Kimono My House with them (he has boldly described it as “the only Sparks record worth listening to”). Gordon found spaces in the extravagant compositions for his crucial, melodious basslines before finding himself kicked out for reading a newspaper in a rehearsal. He then formed the short-lived glam outfit Jet, fronted by former John’s Children vocalist Andy Ellison. Their sole album from 1975 is excellent – simultaneously echoing Sparks and anticipating punk. After Jet split, Gordon and Ellison formed Radio Stars, a rawer proposition who found themselves associated with the punk and new wave scene. Since 2003, Gordon has released nine solo albums of bizarrely-themed singalongs, snarling satire and the occasional Gilbert & Sullivan cover.
Martin Gordon’s childhood was mostly devoid of popular media. His parents didn’t own a television as they didn’t believe in it. His radio diet consisted exclusively of the Light Programme, the BBC radio station with fun carefully allotted and youth culture barred. He was first exposed to pop music when he heard a gang of kids singing a Beach Boys song in Frinton-on-Sea. He had to sneak a transistor radio under his bedcovers to get a taste of what he’d been missing out on. Perhaps Gordon is still making up for lost time: On OMG, his ninth album, he keeps an attentive eye on the digital furniture of the present day. Google, YouTube and Instagram are all name-checked. One track is humorously suffixed “(Weird Flex But OK Mix)”. Beneath all of this noise is a hum as old as the hills – human foolishness. The targets on Will of the People are obvious from the title alone, and the lyrics are suitably serrated; “It’s the will of the people / so sound the joyous horns/ it’s the will of the people / and they’re riding unicorns”. In Coming Over, Gordon taunts dishonest internet influencers and their materialistic lifestyles over a riff similar to that of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, another song that touches on consumerism in the modern world.
Recorded on a boat moored in Berlin prior to the global pandemic, OMG still feels perfectly of the moment. “Bring your mobiles and devices / we can livestream any crisis” Gordon sings on Google World, while I Know It All could’ve been written about the rise of anti-maskers. Indeed, Gordon recently released a new track titled COVIDiots (Make the World Go Flat). OMG is an altogether more pessimistic work than Martin Gordon’s previous albums. Gone are the infectious weirdo singalongs of previous albums such as Hit Him on The Head (With a Hammer) from 2003’s The Baboon in the Basement; OMG hinges on indiscreet, world-weary songs about Donald Trump and Brexit propaganda. Gordon is angry about the way-out West we live in and eager to harness this passion. This pessimist is still full of piss and vinegar.
However, the lyrics on OMG are not always agreeable, as on the title track which punches down with a tired joke about gender (“Make it go away / America is great and the world is flat / my dog identifies as a cat”). More original is Drone, a love song from the perspective of a UAV. “I wanna hover round your intimate spaces” croons Gordon over a menacing, proggy backing. Move over Every Breath You Take. The unsettling Man Overboard brings Gordon’s excellent bass playing to the fore. It is the album’s high point, utilising a wonky arrangement. Marie Takahashi’s senseless violin part gives it the flavour of Cockney Rebel.
Another highlight is Wild Old Men – a real groover reminiscent of Radio Stars with lyrics about boozed-up pensioners and their tall tales (“The spirits willing but the flesh is now not able / The past has now been transformed into fable”). It brings to mind every Wetherspoons you’ve ever stepped your sticky shoes out of. The kazoo-laden Flat-Footed Frank sounds like the knees-up described in Wild Old Men before it opens up into a wide-eyed outro of layered vocals and a music box melody. Martin Gordon is at his best in these playful moments. He shows his teeth over these eleven songs; you’ll have to decide if you prefer him when he’s grinning or when he’s grimacing.
❉ ‘O M G’ is out now: Click here to by via Paypal direct from the artist.
❉ Huw Thomas is a musician and writer from Radnorshire, Wales. His special interests include Northern Irish band Cruella De Ville, Cardiacs, Back to the Egg and Oh No It’s Selwyn Froggitt. He tweets as @huwareyou.