John Moore
Half Awake
Germ Organization
2005
A-



britain: it's a bit daft. Full of wonky toothed-folk with silly accents who spend their time watching football, lynching pediatricians, and maiming each other in Swedish furniture stores. Ripe for being pilloried, then, but recent musical offerings bemoaning the state of Modern Britain have often ended up coming across a bit clumsy and hectoring, seemingly inspired by such imaginative targets as Working In Offices, Reality TV and People Thinking Your Solo Records Are A Bit Crap. John Moore, on the other hand, is a bit of an expert at effortlessly withering musical diagnoses of Britain's failings, having spent 7 years in Black Box Recorder making sugary but black-hearted pop songs with Britain's Most Evil Man Luke Haines. I get the impression he was unjustly regarded as a minor player, despite writing half of the songs on the last album, possibly because Haines' reputation as an Auteur preceded him. With that project apparently on hold indefinitely, Moore's taking the chance to play auteur (he plays everything but drums on this record), and the results are really quite good.

The subject matter's as bleak as you'd expect; The Times warned that it might make listeners tempted to kill themselves, and parts of it do almost seem tailor-made to induce suicide in their readership, and perhaps more helpfully, their staff. Central cheerful themes of note include aging, alcoholism, mental illness, and the inevitably recurring agony of Tim Henman's failure to win Wimbledon. The bile's alarmingly efficient as well; Moore's venom-coated lyrics cut right to the heart of the matter with the minimum of fuss or decorum (“Old Habits Die Hard” contains the heartwarming couplet "all those agony aunts who swooped to kiss your ears were just moistening their cunts with your tears"). “Little England” mounts an exasperated assault on the narrow worldview of coffin-dodging xenophobes ("we'll get up a petition and make it very clear, they might do that sort of thing in London, but we don't tolerate it here"), while “Friends Reunited,” wherein the protagonist drunkenly looks up an old flame and gets a bit maudlin and sinister, is perhaps the logical extension of “Disco 2000,” ramping the pathos and desperation up to uncomfortable levels and setting it to an incongruously jaunty disco backing.

Sonically, it's often not far from Haines' preferred brand of jangly, vaguely glammy melancholia. Some of the guitars on “Old Habits Die Hard” could be straight from uh, “American Guitars,” and he sings in a similar thin rasp, though Haines is obviously the more experienced vocalist. Moore fares a bit better on the spoken word bits that crop up here and there (he sounds a bit like Neil Tennant in places, which, as far as I can tell, is never a bad thing). Regardless, the slightly dreary “Friends and Family” aside, he clearly has a pretty good ear for a tune in his own right. “Brittle Bones,” a delicate paean to being protective of your kids, is the highlight. One of the record's occasional lapses into more obviously personal territory, it plods along gently, with a pretty little tremolo guitar riff and an echoing melodica, gradually developing a sort of measured intensity; it could almost be a less evil younger sibling of Black Box Recorder's “Child Psychology” ("life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it" vs. "if they try to take you back...we'll make 9/11 seem like a quiet day"). It's marvelous, and scores bonus points for having one of those overblown “Moonage Daydream” type guitar solos that sound like a lone, inexplicably plugged in guitarist heroically riffing on while the world collapses around him (possibly while using the headstock to fend off the DSS). This is my third or fourth favourite musical device (the second being Shouting The Same Thing Over And Over While Becoming Increasingly Manic, which conveniently pops up on “Creature Of Habit”). It really ought to go on for about eight minutes though.

Further smart Ronson-type guitarism features prominently on “Ave The Rave,” a complaint about an over-exuberant daughter featuring a brief guest spot by the offending child. This is the most unabashedly upbeat thing on the record (unless he's really, seriously pissed off about getting woken up at 5am), while the lush finale “Unusual Weather” is pleasantly dreamy (it references the state of being half awake from the title; apparently it's like, pretty cool) and hints at an escape from all the tedium. When it starts busting out the idealised English countryside imagery you get the first glimpse of a possible love-hate relationship rather than a hate-hate one.

It's not all doom and gloom, then. Just mostly. It's all shot through with characteristic black humour, of course, so even the doom and gloom's delivered with a grim smile. I suppose the lesson's that if you live somewhere rubbish, the productive solution is mocking it mercilessly for fun and, if possible, profit. You have to laugh, or you'd cry, and you'd probably make crap records as well.


Reviewed by: Fergal O’Reilly
Reviewed on: 2005-03-17
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