CORNERSHOP When I Was Born For The 7th Time (Wiiija)
Presenting the album most likely to generate legions of new fans following the end of year polls: last year the patronage of the inky hacks deservedly sent sales of Becks magnificent "Odelay" skyrocketing upwards after it topped or scored highly in every end of year round-up worth bothering with. This year the same honour should be bestowed upon the second album from Cornershop, which rolled up only a little way after predictably victorious works from Spiritualized, Radiohead, The Verve and Primal Scream in the NMEs class-of-97 beanfeast.
Formerly more famous for their no-fi posturings and curry-coloured vinyl pressings, in the years following the release of their debut "Womans Gotta Have It" Cornershop seem to have discovered the delights of dub and dance music, as well as the directions to a rich vein of perfect pop in the grand tradition of Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. Served up together this makes "When I Was Born For The 7th Time" a staggeringly addictive achievement.
Best bits include the recent (and soon to be rereleased) single "Brimful Of Asha", a kind of "Lost In Music"/"High Fidelity" (the books, not the songs!) style travelogue of an early 70s musical upbringing, full of passing references to "Bolan Boogie" and Trojan Records, the cheap synth DIY of "Funky Days Are Back Again" which lists a litany of things that are back now that funky days are here again ("tax in the post" being one of the more bizarre inclusions). "Good Shit" is just that, a bucketful of positivity, while "Good To Be On The Road Back Home Again", consciously or unconsciously I dont know, mimics the boy/girl duets that have appeared on the last few Tindersticks albums. Guest appearances include the late Allen Ginsberg, who narrates "When The Light Appears Boy", and rapper Justin Warfield. But perhaps the albums greatest coup is that, just when youre pondering on the fact that Cornershop have single-handedly resurrected the role of the sitar in rock music, abandoned by The Beatles circa 1967, what should appear but a version of "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", sung in one of the bands many tongues - Punjabi, perhaps?
Cruelly overlooked on its initial release, perhaps, history will nevertheless judge "When I Was Born For The 7th Time" as one of the greatest albums of 1997. And for the broadminded music lover who already has "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space", "OK Computer", "Urban Hymns" and "Vanishing Point", heres the next most deserving candidate for your record tokenage.CORNERSHOP Handcream For A Generation (Wiiija)
Three years after the Norman Cook-assisted number one success of "Brimful Of Asha", Cornershop have returned with their fourth album, and it's marvellous. The diverse stylistic plundering that made "When I Was Born For The 7th Time" such a kaleidoscopically compelling listen has been neatly parcelled up as the basic template for "Handcream For A Generation", which, at its most conventional, neatly summarises almost everything they got up to last time around.
So let's deal with those bits first. "Staging The Plaguing Of The Raised Platform" is far more of a mainstream chugger than its verbose title might suggest, almost a pedestrian, controlled rehash of the original "Brimful Of Asha" with a children's choir somewhat implausibly attached. First single "Lessons Learned From Rocky I To Rocky III" plays similar tricks; the fuzzy, glammed-up guitar sound and references to TSB Rock School plant it as firmly in the Seventies as "Brimful Of Asha"'s fleeting namechecks of Ferguson and "Bolan Boogie" did. And, not for the last time, Tjinder assures us "I understand guns in the A&R office". "Spectral Mornings" is arguably the album's weakest moment - rather more than a moment, in fact, as this lazy 15 minute stretch soaks up nearly a quarter of the album's duration, contrasting dully with the sharply paced beauty and compacted imagination of the remainder of the record. A throwback to Cornershops long gone, it's a barely melodic droning jam, enlivened not a jot by a guest appearance by Noel Gallagher. Not necessarily bad, exactly, it just seems a bit redundant.
Elsewhere, "Handcream For A Generation" is a friendly, technicolor riot. "Heavy Soup" opens the album, emceed by soulman Otis Clay, launching the trend for reflexive lyrical references that seem to operate like a verbal tag team from track to track. "Music Plus 1" is thumping French disko of the modern kind, pleasantly reminiscent of Daft Punk and "Super Discount", with its itchy-finger filtering, circling stereo effects and bubbly acid. Deep dub and ragga toasting power "Motion The 11", and expose similar efforts by Gorillaz as the pale, half-hearted dabbling they undoubtedly are. "The London Radar" is my favourite, a thumping dance track shot through with what sounds like a vintage air travel documentary. It could be something John Travolta would limber up to in "Saturday Night Fever", refracted through 25 years of dance music's continuous improvement. The wittily titled "Bonus Track" doesn't actually appear to be one, but sounds rather like the soundtrack to a hip French dinner party, complete with elegant lounge music and cultured conversation. Additionally, the vinyl version arrives with an extra white label 12" of remixes, which is pleasant.
So, "Handcream For A Generation" is a great album, one of the year's finest so far, but a few nagging doubts need to be exorcised. Does it sound more upbeat, outgoing and self-confident than Cornershop albums of yore? Possibly - there's far less of the enjoyable but slightly reticent mid-tempo shuffling that has tended to dominate Cornershop's music in the past, possibly influenced by the guiding hand of Mr Slim. It may also be significant that, unlike "When I Was Born For The 7th Time", much of the traditional Indian instrumentation appears to have been dumped - there are no tamboura, harmonium or dhoki parts here, and a sitar appears only once, during the old-skool Cornershop of "Spectral Mornings". And, enjoyable as "Handcream For A Generation" undoubtedly is, isn't it just a glittering array of catchphrases and pop-culture references strung fashionably together? Possibly. But when they're assembled in such a thrilling fashion, slip the drummer the benefit of the doubt. If not their outright best, "Handcream For A Generation" is at least the equal of "When I Was Born For The 7th Time", making it the kind of generously-hearted cross-generational cultureclash that few bands achieve once in a lifetime, let alone twice.
CORNERSHOP / DIRTY NORTH Manchester Moho Live 27 July 2009
At first I peg Dirty North as Gomez soundtracking barely-seen Britflick “Shifty”, but their mix of stuttering ska and Streets-style provincial rap soon has me revising that opinion. They certainly make a crunching impact, abetted by excellent sonics rarely encountered in little, low-ceilinged venues like this.
Cornershop know how to keep an audience in suspense: it’s gone 10:30 by the time they take to the stage, one musician at a time, “Stop Making Sense”-style. They play over the walk-on music (their own “Heavy Soup”) until they’re eight in number, a heroic complement giving the small stage, insufficiently raised to make staging a plaguing a possibility.
For some reason my expectations of the Cornershop live experience weren’t high – perhaps they had a shambolic reputation back in the days when their releases came on curry coloured vinyl. Tonight, however, within their chugging, mid-tempo comfort zone, and making allowances for the blatantly pre-recorded female backing vocals (and given the crush on stage already I think we can) they’re great. Their multi-textured, rainbow-timbred arrangements more than compensate for the fact that they don’t exactly radiate charisma. In fact, the array of instruments they deploy that could be considered ‘foreign’ to rock music have more stage presence than the musicians playing them.
The setlist draws heavily from new album “Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast”, released this very day, and the album with which they’ll forever be immediately associated, the “Brimful Of Asha”-carrying “When I Was Born For The 7th Time”. They generously repeat their Punjabi-language cover of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” when a first attempt is savaged by feedback, and offer a 40th anniversary cover of Manfred Mann’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn”. The set’s breathtaking highlight, though, is its closer, which I think I vaguely recognise as “7:20 A.M., Jullandar Shere” from their second album “Woman’s Gotta Have It”, which lasts approximately forever. Can you say indie-dance without cringing? How about indie-trance? However it can be pigeonholed, it’s an organic feast of repetitive beats, during which the band gradually vacate the stage, leaving only two percussionists and a hatted Ben Ayres on squidgy noises. It’s a magnificent end to an evening that, with its high standing-around-waiting-for-something-to-happen quotient, had initially looked unpromising.
CORNERSHOP Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast (Ample Play)
Cornershop’s first album in seven years arrives in what must be the flimsiest packaging I’ve ever encountered, effectively just a poster folded around the records. Fortunately, the music it contains is somewhat more substantial. For the most part “Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast” eschews the electronica that permeated its excellent predecessor “Handcream For A Generation”, popping up only briefly in short interludes such as the “Saturday Night Fever” disco euphoria of “Half Brick” and the Daft Punk-y “Shut Southall Down”. The album majors on dense but straightahead sitar-powered rock ‘n’ roll, almost like peak period Oasis (whenever that was) spiced with exoticism. Yet it still sounds like the kind of music that happens despite– rather than because of – the industry, an independent mentality that runs all the way from the “Manchester and Liverpool” clarion call of “Soul School” to the band’s self-distribution methods, selling the album through their own website and what they mysteriously refer to as “local shops” (for local people, presumably).
The title track melds Faces-style swagger with suburban detailing, clarinets and gunfire, and a cover of Manfred Mann’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn” slides seamlessly into the whole. Taking up the entire fourth side, “The Turned On Truth (The Truth Is Turned On)” is 17 finely-modulated minutes of gospel rock that never outstays its welcome.
Maybe it’s harder to make a case for Cornershop now than a decade ago, when they were still in their “Brimful Of Asha”-assisted commercial pomp. Nevertheless, “Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast” is that comparative modern-day rarity, a consistent, cohesive album as free of skyscraping peaks as it is knuckle-dragging troughs.