My Life Story – ‘Joined Up Talking’ 20 Years On

❉ Ange Chan revisits MLS’ third album, finding it stands the test of time.

On 7th February 2000, My Life Story released their third album Joined Up Talking; a sassy CD with singer/songwriter Jake Shillingford’s trademark intelligent and very witty lyrics coupled with erstwhile orchestral Britpop melodies, ranging from ‘you can’t help but dance to’ tracks, to melancholia at its most woeful, which is almost invisible within the song until you really take the time to concentrate on the lyrical content.

I can scarcely believe that two whole decades have passed us by since this genuine work of art was released.  It takes me back to the turn of the millennium when my own life story was also very different to what it is now and yet at the same time, it’s passed in the blink of an eye.  As for the band’s activity in the intervening years, they morphed from My Life Story into Exile Inside and Choppersaurus, and frontman Jake Shillingford worked with a plethora of notable names, from ‘60s icon P J Proby to singer/songwriter extraordinaire Marc Almond.

Joined Up Talking followed the relative success of their previous two albums, Mornington Crescent and The Golden Mile both of which had tugged heavily at my heartstrings and continue to do so ‘til this day.  Released in the mid-Nineties and therefore at the very epicentre of the Britpop era, My Life Story were a breath of fresh air with singles such as the anthemic and successful Twelve Reasons Why (I Love Her), the cheeky Strumpet and the can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head jolliness of King of Kissingdom.

However, Joined Up Talking fell in the shadows of significant chart success, quite possibly because of their Britpop association which was, at that time, in its ‘consigned to music history’ phase.  Personally, I think it stands up proudly against their previous two albums and has shown the band to maintain its sassy stance whilst also developing their eclectic musical cachet.

The album opens with Empire Line, which was also released as a single.  It’s a classic My Life Story song with the intriguing lyrics about a high class, catwalk fashion model, but who has a drug habit to keep the myth of glamour alive.  The lyrics ‘she’s selling fascination’ sells the ultimate dream whilst “she sticks it into her toe so nobody knows, she’s up to the wire” delivers the harsh truth of reality. The next track If You Can’t Live Without Me Then Why Aren’t You Dead Yet? is a jaunty little number which questions relationships and in particular, the ending of them.  The lyrics talk of the extreme melodrama, emotional baggage, the drama queen antics at the end of a relationship “by her neck she swings by her own heart strings!”

In contrast lyrically, It’s a Girl Thing deals with some of the traits of being a girl; deleting a phone number out of your phone so a boy no longer exists, being just one of them. And before anyone accuses My Life Story of being sexist, there’s the antithesis of this song called ‘It’s a Boy Thing’ which is one of their B sides.  Clever thinking!

Everyone knows about that feeling of the-morning-after-the-night-before which is succinctly summed up in Sunday Tongue. “One day later, ten years older, too much fun leaves a bad taste in your mouth” and we all know that feeling!  Drinking, experimenting with drugs, and sleeping with unsuitable boys half your age then the stone-cold reality hits and instant regret ‘you’ll never do that again. ‘Til next week anyway!’

Remembering the hedonistic days of youth where you believe that you can get away with anything and everything which leads us very nicely into the next track, Yes to Everything which tackles exactly that subject… agreeing to almost everything and wanting to soak up as many of life’s experiences as you can whilst you’re in your twenties, and not even considering any consequences of agreeing to everything.  Ah those days!

The following track Walk Don’t/Walk tackles relationships once more and uses a clever analogy. It’s a bittersweet song of breaking up and immediate regret of saying the wrong thing in the heat of the moment, making a huge mistake walking out/walking away with painful recriminations driving the reality of the situation.

There’s Nothing For Nobody and Everybody Wants To Be Someone is a jaunty song which is about making life choices. ‘In a world where opportunity or obscurity nod to you’ indicating that its down to the individual to make something of their lives, be it grasping opportunities that come your way, or fading into obscurity.  Take your pick, the choice is all yours!

My favourite track on this album is The New New Yorker which sums up NYC sass in song.  It reminds me of a non-specific song by Soft Cell, where the glamour in the squalor are brought to the fore.  The Soft Cell sensibility is also brought to the fore with the use of the flugalhorn which is reminiscent of their song Torch.  The New New Yorker presents the seeming nonchalance of New Yorker attitude where life is cheap, attitude is plentiful, and outward appearances must be maintained at all times no matter where you’re from.  When you live in New York you automatically become a New Yorker ‘and the little town blues just melt away’.  

Neverland continues with the glamour in the squalor theme where a streetwalker takes a strange on a metaphorical journey, ignoring the baseness and negativity of life and highlighting the wonderment of the world from their perspective.  It talks of life experience, which is something to aspire to, not to be judged…

“You’ll never see the stars if you don’t go out at night,
You’ll never feel your heart until its broken twice,
You’ve never been alive until you’ve felt the cold
I’m walking til I’ve found my soul”

The next track Stalemate sings again of the break-up in a relationship which has gone awry but carried on, and where one disgruntled partner has had enough and decides to call the shots and make that ultimate decision; ‘something or nothing you can choose’.  Moving onto the next song on the album, Don’t Believe in Love is a cynical look at that eternal subject in song from a different perspective where the protagonist considers an imagined love, which in their own mind can be thought up to be perfect, unlike the stark contrast of reality where relationships are never perfect and which are often inevitably flawed by human intervention and everyday living.

The album is completed with its twelfth track, Two Stars and ends the album musically as it began, with sweeping orchestral statements and melancholic lyrics flowing into a more frenetic upbeat melody with a deep stark message contained within the words.  Two stars marked upon her shoulders to denote the children ‘she conceived’ yet then ‘she conceded’ to the portals of time.  The two stars on her shoulders being a constant tattooed reminder of being ‘covered in glory, covered in sin’ and a permanent reminder of what was not to be.

The album in its entirety tackles many relatable subject matters of pain, loss, choices and love. On the face of it, it’s a collection of great pop songs, but if you join up the subjects and listen a little more thoughtfully, you’ll understand that this album just so much more than that. As an album it deserved to do so much better commercially than it did, and twenty years along the line it has stood the test of time, tackling subjects which are just as relatable today as they were at the turn on the millennium.

❉ My Life Story – ‘Joined Up Talking’ was released on 7 February 2000 by it Records. It is available for streaming and download from Amazon.

❉ Ange Chan is a regular writer for We Are Cult and has published six volumes of poetry and two novels of contemporary fiction.  She is currently also working on a long-standing project of her third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots.

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