BEST OF 2017: 16. Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band ‘Adiós Señor Pussycat’

Much has been made of the relatively new-found sobriety of Michael Head in the coverage surrounding this album’s release. It appears to offer a fresh start from a narrative bedevilled with misfortune, self-destruction and sheer bad luck. Timing has rarely been on Head’s side, whether in The Pale Fountains, Shack or as a solo artist. Critical appreciation has certainly been considerably more forthcoming than hefty record sales. Whatever might have been, it’s worth noting what has still made it into the world and celebrating the frequently beguiling magnificence of it all. Eleven years after the final Shack album, ‘…The Corner Of Miles and Gil’, ‘Adiós Señor Pussycat’ is a very welcome return.

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The well-covered influences of The Byrds and Love remain, but Head has been making songs with a nuanced melodic understatement for long enough now to own his brand. Those of us who are in on the secret were delighted to hear that a new record was on the way and it didn’t disappoint. From the breezy cover inwards, this is music with an infectious warmth that’s taking nothing for granted. Not now. Pulling together pieces written, at least in part, across the past twenty-five years, this is a nevertheless impressively coherent set of songs. ‘Picasso’ gently shuffles into view before ‘Overjoyed’ pitches up with its keening chorus and swirling guitar break. ‘Picklock’, meanwhile, whirls around with enjoyably intricate percussive assistance and lyrics reflecting on the social agency of wine.

Head’s voice is often a cause for joy – if you’ve never heard ‘H.M.S. Fable’, ‘Waterpistol’ or ‘The Magical World Of The Strands’ then you might want to get on with that too – but there are moments of true beauty here. ‘Winter Turns To Spring’ has a flickering fragility to it, while the cascading ‘ba-ba-ba-bas’ on ‘Rumer’ make me smile every single time I hear them. ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ has a touch of the old school folk tradition and ‘Josephine’ has some magnificent strings at play. As is so often the case with Head’s records, ‘Adiós Señor Pussycat’ doesn’t lend itself to easy cherrypicking. The whole thing makes for a rich, restorative listen when your salt of the earth pot is running a little low. It’s lovely to have him back and here’s hoping we don’t have to wait until 2028 for another.

 

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