❉ Things are even more the same than ever, only this time a bit different.
I, Ludicrous are one of the three best bands in the known universe (the other two are, obviously, Half Man Half Biscuit and The Fall). They’ve been kicking around since the mid-1980s, and, after a decade-plus lull, returned to the ‘scene’ in 2015 with a new and brilliant album, Dull Is The New Interesting. Despite, or maybe even because of, the passing of the years, nothing much had changed since their Peel-session, Fall-supporting, free-flexi-disc-with-Blah-Blah-Blah magazine ‘Imperial phase’ (they were mint then and are still mint now). Catchy songs cheaply recorded detailing the tawdry minutiae of everyday urban life in the UK, with a particular emphasis on football, drinking, and the demeaning, soul-sapping world of work (which, the way things are going, won’t be a worry for many of us much longer). And now, a mere two years later, I, Ludicrous are BACK! with their ninth album, Songs From The Sides Of Lorries. And things are even more the same than ever, only this time a bit different.
Proceedings commence with Because They Are Ludicrous, a fun, if rather pointless, instrumental, consisting of precisely 1.5 chords blatted out over an almost, but not quite, funky bassline. As the main attraction, at least for me, with this band is their lyrics, this is frustrating, especially since the entire album is only 32 minutes long (or rather short). Things are rectified with the following A Very Important Meeting, classic I, Ludicrous, just a strummed guitar, some poignant keyboards, and lyrics which we can all relate to, about attending a boring meeting with a hangover, and deciding to chuck in your job. The third track, I Wanna Give You A Scare, brings an abrupt change of gear, being a chugging post-punk pop (or is it post-pop punk?) number about, well, nothing much more than the title. I, Ludicrous trainspotters like myself will note with satisfaction that the song references The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat, which we know from their song My Favourite Records is one of the band’s favourite records.
More poptastic larks, and a more polished production, are forthcoming on Today’s Man, a concise, spiky, deadpan character study of denial and late middle age male angst. Deeply, deeply satisfying on so many levels, it’s the sort of song you (and the band no doubt) wish could become a surprise smash hit catapulting I, Ludicrous to the top of the charts and into the public consciousness, both of which could do with such a fillip, it has to be said. Again, the lyrics will resonate especially if you are a middling-class man on the wrong side of fifty (or perhaps it should be sixty? The days of Approaching 40 now seem a loooong way behind). The bit at the end when Will quotes Dick Emery: ‘Oh, you are awful… No, you ARE awful’ for some reason tickles me pink.
Then comes the centrepiece of the album, the single It’s All Free, here expanded into a titanic six-minute epic. It dominates the album in much the same way that Bremen Nacht dominated The Fall’s Frenz Experiment, and is equally punishingly repetitiously delicious. Thundering tribal drums, a throbbing bassline, slicing shards of guitar and, in places, a nice, almost psychedelic, burst of keyboards combine to stunning effect. It’s worlds away from the style of, say, A Very Important Meeting and shows how versatile I, Ludicrous can be. Despite the brevity of the album there’s a wide range of styles on show here. Big surprises come in little packages, as they say.
Then, just when you are recovering from It’s All Free, I, Ludicrous hit you with Roger Dismal, which, I think is even better. Set to a more traditional Ludicrous musical backdrop it tells the tale of a man who is so dull he makes one’s own life seem interesting by comparison. It’s Mr Logic from Viz meets Half Man Half Biscuit’s Letters Sent. There are many joys here, most of them involving hedgehogs, and the way the song stops, and then kicks back in again is fantastic and I wish it went on for longer.
After these two central, long tracks, the album races to a close with a series of shorter songs. Carsnbars sounds like Dire Straits – no, really, I’m not trying to irk the purists (sorry, wrong band), this is meant as a compliment. I like Dire Straits and can easily see Mark Knopfler singing this. It’s a tight little bluesy number, about spending too much time in cars and bars. I can’t drive and don’t drink (see Today’s Man) so don’t really relate to this song. The next track is a cheery number about growing old whilst working in a menial, libido-crushing job with a bad back whilst descending into hypochondria and alcoholism. (Now these things, I can relate to). But never mind, because It’ll All Be Over Soon. Death is welcome when you’re old and decrepit and devoid of hope.
After that, it has to be said, the album ends on something of a massive downer.
Paul. Jesus, Paul! What can I say? In many ways it’s textbook I, Ludicrous, right down to the terminally predictable rhymes (Paul is not very tall, in fact he’s rather small, and no-one loves him at all) and gentle musical backdrop, which this time includes some very well-judged wistful keyboards. However the picture it paints of a lonely and somewhat inarticulate man going to the pub on his own and to the library on his own is nothing short of devastatingly heart-breaking .Played and sung dead straight without any histrionic straining for pathos, it simply tells its story with the sparse economy of a Lowry painting. The final subdued plea of ‘please help me’ is chilling, and touching. Next time I’m in the pub I’m going to talk to Paul. Unless, of course, I am him.
Please help me.
Following that, the final track on the album, Obituary, is two minutes of tinkling, gentle piano, over which mourners repeatedly intone, ‘He was a lovely man.’ It really sums up the inarticulacy of grief, the inadequacy of language in the face of bereavement. But whose obituary do they mean? Is it poor Paul, who died because nobody heard his plea and came to his aid? Today’s Man, whose liver eventually packed up after too much Stella and painkillers? Roger Dismal, maybe, devoured by hedgehogs? Or perhaps, given the bland platitude of ‘he was a lovely man’, it’s everyone’s obituary, our obituary; yours, and mine. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.
And you thought I, Ludicrous were a comedy band.
Thanks, lads. Nice one. I think I’ll have a listen to your 2015 single, Cheer Up!, to, er, cheer myself up. To paraphrase that song: ‘Let’s run around and twist and shout, cos there’s a new I, Ludicrous album coming out!’ And it’s well worth your time, especially if you’re an alcoholic, prescription drug dependant, gambling, debt-ridden, porn addict. Not that I am any of those things. Oh no.
❉ ‘I, Ludicrous: Songs From The Sides Of Lorries’ is out now.