ZUNO MEN People (Coop)
Walthamstow quartet Zuno Mens simple aim is "to make pop songs that blend originality and experimentation with immensely catchy melodies and rhythms", and in the accompanying sheaf of press cuttings seem to be labouring, much like any other band as determinedly left-field as this is doomed to, under a dead-weight of Beefheart comparisons. Packed to the gills with strummy, quirky tunes and tangential observations, "People" sounds more like a grisly genetic experiment involving early Orange Juice, They Might Be Giants and "Parklife"-era Blur, especially in the Londoncentric lyricism of "Dirt Summer" ("When the tube is packed"), although "Appendages" is a definite descendent of every Beefheart guitar instrumental ever recorded. Zuno Men, like Beefheart, make the sort of music youll either immediately adore or despise, though I still havent worked out which side of the divide Im on. Full marks for the euphonium solos though, and, possibly the most surprising part of the CD, the DIY techno that closes "Grass Grow".
ZUNO MEN Nobody Knows (Coop)
Walthamstows Zuno Men return with a new single that sounds more like the sort of tune that "Parklife"-era Blur might hide away on a b-side and less like Captain Beefheart having an argument with a young Edwyn Collins. "Nobody Knows" seems to be a wistful tale of unrecognised talent ("You made a flan just now/It must have broken the old world record...But nobody knows you did") that may well be a reflection of their own fiercely independent status; this is from a band so disarmingly honest they even paste their bad reviews onto the press release. "Monster" is a short acoustic vignette, "Voila" is a rollicking Franglais tune that would probably be shot on sight if it ever made it to the other side of the chunnel and "Grass Grow" is a pleasant reminder of how individual their debut album "People" was. For full enjoyment of this product we recommend using audio equipment, they helpfully advise. Do not destroy, it says on the CD (what, just Zuno Men singles or, like, anything, ever?) If they carry on at this rate theyll be top ten fodder in about thirty years time - but why wait that long? "Nobody Knows" will brighten your day, even if you never work out why.
ZUNO MEN Stay In With Me (Coop)
1998s first Zuno Men single finds the Walthamstow quartet contemplating the end of the century and plans for celebration thereof. "We could rent a video out/We could stay sober and go to bed/And go to sleep" chirps Keith, and makes it sound, well, quite an attractive prospect actually, especially as the Zuno Men are lurching away from sounding like lobotomised Captain Beefheart evangelists towards the previously uncharted (I wonder why?) terrain of a skiffle Bonzo Dog Band playing Orange Juice tunes. Pretty fab, actually, and, unusually, the more commercial they get the more convincing they sound.
The only black marks are garnered by the singles other two tracks: "Snow" has some effectively tinkly synth sounds but, a lbit like its subject, doesnt really go anywhere, and "Music For An Imaginary Computer Game" mightve been amusing fifteen years ago, but not particularly timely in an age when even computer games have their own soundtrack albums. Still, full marks for the main attraction, and heres hoping theyll be as famous as they dream of being (possibly not very) yet.
ZUNO MEN Everybody Was Right (Coop)
The second Zuno Men single of 1998 sees them accelerating out of reach of their influences (chiefly Captain Beefheart and early Orange Juice) at a rate of knots and towards a kind of quirky, leftfield, angular folk thats becoming increasingly all their own. The fact that theyre managing this whilst writing friendly little tunes that positively welcome and encourage long term acquaintance is a minor miracle. "Everybody Was Right" is a plea for tolerance and peace in this crazy, mixed up world that shows "Give Peace A Chance" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" were far from the last words on the subject, and a deserved number one in almost any universe apart from our own. The other two tracks are a tad washed out in comparison, but "Going To Like You" is valuable for providing what I believe is the first recorded evidence of the live Zuno experience, sounding as untogether and totally controlled at the same time as their studio work does. Dont quote me on this, but their next album could be a stunner.
ZUNO MEN This Is The Beginning (Coop)
Friend of the stars that I am, I actually received an email from lead Zuno Man Keith a few months ago, but impartial reviewer that I am Im not going to let that cloud my judgement of this, the latest of their irregular three-minutes-of-fun dispatches. Unfortunately, behind all the zesty zaniness, "This Is The Beginning" sounds a bit tired from smiling all the time and desperate to please, and the elliptical lyrical observations that have made their past few singles such unassuming delights seem strangely absent. Better arrives in the form of the 67-second "Desperate For A Thing", a wry acoustic tale of some impressionable soul ("You spent all your money on the latest sporting fad"), only for hopes to be dashed once again by the buzzy not-quite-techno of "Heyyou".
Dont despair, though, because a new album (their second, if Im counting correctly) arrives in July, and their Mark & Lard-approved antidote to pre-millennium tension "Stay In With Me" gets reissued in September. Things could turn out nice again yet.