Assigning unwarranted affection to the era of your youth is a trap that most people of more advancing years eventually fall into. It is a sign you are old and have earned, the self annointed right, to have your memory clouded by the sandy mists of time and the rose tinted spectacles you will need to read this post.
As a teen in the 80’s I can talk wibble on for hours about how great the decade was, whilst completely forgetting the absolute fact that my family was affected by the pure evil that was Maggie Thatcher, had to fight through all manner of big hair and even bigger new new wave musical atrocities, just to hear something decent and could not attend a football match without the threat of being attached by the naughty boys of the other team. It mattered not though because it was ‘my time’.
One of the reasons why I like Martin Newell / Cleaners From Venus work and especially the brilliance of Dolly Birds & Spies so much, is that he celebrates this human affliction to hyperbolize anything they are familiar with, whilst at the same time displaying the perspicacity to juxtapose such affection with a sense of realism.
Initially, his fondness for all things yesteryear has always been apparent in his ramshackle approach to production and a definitive love of all things retro in the knob twiddling department.
This is even more apparent in this album and is explained succinctly in the album bio on Bandcamp, which describes his production as the following:
Recorded in Marvy Mid-fi on an 8-track recorder.
Played on a bunch of old guitars and an upright piano, kitchen percussion a lovely old Yamaha DX27 with no RAM memory and other dodgy old electronica. I make music with out of whatever’s closest to hand.
Amid such a clutter of the immensely uncluttered, Newell’s stories of ‘times gone by’ characters and themes have no choice but to thrive with his famous downplayed and distant jangled retro-pop, without becoming a total pastiche of the whole ‘happier times affliction’.
As such tracks like Dolly Birds & Spies, The Essex Princess (see below) and Johnny Tomorrow pulse with glowing nostalgia, but temper it with tales of what the times were really like by identifying seedy scandals and the insecurities of the age addled lothario’s of yesterday, that have become the servant of sorrow of today (as seen in Johnny Tomorrow).
As is the way with Newell lyrics, he provides the listener with enough subtle inferences to (perhaps) suggest that the character depicted in all three of these tracks could be the actual same man, but also infuses enough references to life’s minutiae to equally suppose that the character could just be today’s slightly post- middle aged everyman. Typically brilliant, his lyrical genius is spacious enough to force you to make your own conclusions and consider alternatives.
With every Newell album there are moments of extra jangled intensity that are not really in harmony with the remainder of the album and as such often convey an exceptional quality, which is accentuated by merely being comparatively more vibrant. In Dolly Birds and Spies the truly beautiful Trade Winds and Ragged Winter Band are there to remind you that this man is a jangle-pop legend.
As if to augment the contention that the current can compete with all things auld lang syne, Newell seems intent on getting more essential with every release.