Album Review – H.M.S, Fable by Shack (1999) (London Records)

Grange Hill was a UK kids TV show in the 70/80/90’s about life in an inner London school. It was a massive hit among the youth who lapped up the twice weekly tales of characters such as ‘Gripper Stebson’ (school bully), Benny (school football star), Tucker (the charmer) Roly (fat kid) and the likes of Paula Yates and Caffy (Cathy) and their variety of love trysts.
Another less remarkable character was a lad nicknamed Zammo. He was largely boring until one day the writers gave him the most ardent story line ever by giving him a drug problem. This basically meant that he played truant a lot from school, looked a bit dizzy and sniffed a lot.
Zammo’s plight eventually became a focal point for an anti drug campaign run by various tabloids in  and Zammo and the cast of Grange Hill released a single entitled ‘Just Say No’, which did ridiculously well and ended up with most kids owning at least one item of ‘just say no’ merchandise.

Perhaps because he had left school, perhaps because Youtube and e-mail had not been invented then, or perhaps, just perhaps, because he simply enjoyed taking drugs l…but Michael Head, the lead singer of Shack and indeed the equally brilliant Pale Fountains before them, did not get the Zammo message and he descended into heroin and alcohol addiction for many years.
Beyond the obvious pain that Head presumably suffered from a physical/mental perspective, it also meant that an album such as H.M.S Fable was critically analysed in a vastly different manner than normal releases. Most reviews of this album will usually start with varying levels of condescension ranging from ‘it’s good but just imagine if he was not a junkie’ to the more polite ‘considering the issues he had..’ type comment.

All such condescending comments are obviously nonsense. Shack did not manage to produce a half decent album despite the heroin. Shack also did not produce a half decent album even because of the heroin. Shack just gave us absolute brilliance and it should be recognised as such without the need for any imagined / invented ‘yes but’ addiction reference points.
In fact in a strange way the drug usage certainly aides the album inasmuch that the better parts of the release are when Head writes about his issues. The superb power-pop/rock maelstrom of ‘Lends Some Dough’ (see below) references the need for a fix and the symptoms of heroine withdrawal, as he seeks money to stop the insomnia, itching and aching muscles that typify withdrawal. However, in typical Head style, the lyrics and general aesthetic are never maudlin, never pleading or desperate, never self wallowing, they are more just a matter of fact in manner, typifying his existence and many around him.
Lend’s Some Dough
Similarly, possibly the most famous track beyond the singles from the album, is Streets of Kenny. This has all the echoed mystery in the first half of the track that hints at a spectacular Celtic fable eulogising the hero of a famous battle that was one won against 40,000 marauding 19th century English soldiers, despite being armed with a broken fruit knife. However with typical Head musical antithesis the ‘hero’s mission’ is merely to find a drug dealer. It is truly is a superlative track.
Perhaps however, these tracks, despite being truly glorious in their stature, as opposed to melody, are somewhat atypical to the further majesty of the album, which visits just about every Liverpool specific musical reference point of pop melody from Mersey Beat, to the post-punk grandiosity of Echo and the Bunnymen (especially in the guitar work of a track such as I Want You) and The La’s-isms of tracks like the brilliant Comedy and Reinstated (see below).
Micheal Head. irrespective of his current musical incarnation or current physical/mental status, has never failed to produce musical works that epitomise the uppermost lyrical honesty and intrigue, that are accentuated by the purest of Liverpool inflected melodies. For this reason the absolute majority of his work remains an essential fulcrum of any true jangle-pop / guitar pop fans collections

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