The Dowling Poole: Bleak Strategies – album review

The Dowling Poole – Bleak Strategies (Self Released)

CD/ DL/ LP

Out Now if you pledge.  On general release from August 11th.

Album Of The Year may be some way off but after playing it endlessly on download prior to its Pledge Music release, The Dowling Poole’s Bleak Strategies is in with a chance of being Album Of The Summer.

Yep, for once, we’ve got a proper summer and an album to soundtrack it and get excited about.

I know; Bleak Strategies doesn’t bode well for those yearning for bold, bright, optimistic tunes and summer fun. What you get here is an album that continues to reward the listener. It draws you in with big melodies and earworm choruses, then whispers quietly to your subconscious with regard to darker subject matter. Often within the same song.

This is due to Bleak Strategies being the work of “Random” Jon Poole (Cardiacs/God Damn Whores/Ginger Wildheart Band/Lifesigns) and Willie Dowling (The Grip/Honeycrack/Jackdaw4/Lots Of TV Themes You Never Realised). As Willie himself said when they played The 12 Bar Club (see my review) “on paper,this shouldn’t work”. Two very talented multi-instrumentalists with differing onstage personas collaborating on an album that is complex and open, up-front and ambiguous.

Or maybe that’s why it works? I suspect the glue that holds this together and sprinkles some magic dust is Givvi Flynn. Her vocals throughout, whether backing or lead, add class and warmth.

Enough waffle! The Sun Is Mine opens the album in fine, sparkly form. A hint of quite English psychedelia with a veritable choir of lush backing vocals from all involved, with Willie taking lead vocal. The kind of music I’d want to hear if using a flotation tank; yes, I have used one and this is a close approximation to the music that was in my head at the time. Except, unlike Jon and Willie, I don’t have the talent to draw it from my head and make it sing beautifully.

A Kiss On The Ocean gives Jon a chance to sing. Fans of his varied back catalogue won’t be disappointed. A ludicrously infectious chorus in praise (?) of loving yourself. Tune-wise, it sounds like the perfect balance of Jon and Willie, though it’s impossible to tell without an in-depth interview. Next time then?

Hey Stranger has Jon on verse, Willie on chorus/middle eight. A heartfelt tribute to Tim Smith; Jon’s musical mentor and Cardiacs leader (of the starry skies) who suffered a heart attack and stroke in 2008. It’s a lovely song without this knowledge. With it, it has a melancholy edge regardless of the singalong “ba-ba-ba” section, complete with unintentional Jim’ll Fix It theme tune. “I wish that I could see the celebration in your eyes”. If you’re unfamiliar with Tim’s life story, please check online or at the Facebook Tim Smith(Cardiacs)National Treasure page. A British musical genius.

Saving It All For A Saturday is a virtual knees-up of a tune to a lyric which may owe more to Willie than Jon; a slice of observational drama with an irresistible chorus, once heard never forgotten. It was lovely to hear everyone joining in at the 12 Bar Club gig. Can’t wait for the next one.

Paper, Scissors, Stone has a dreamy, gossamer melody and a lyric seemingly about the futility/stupidity of war and those who dictate when and where troops are sent; “good die young, is your work here never done?”

Empires, Buildings And Acquisitions sounds like it came from Willie’s pen, broadly speaking. A skiffle-type verse, the lyrics concern Donald ‘Interesting Hair’ Trump’s attempts to take over a Scottish town to build another golf course and hotel, only to be told where to go by the locals. How dare they?! What is it about golf? I don’t get it.

Where The Memories Fester sees Jon And Willie team up for a rant against organised religion. Something of the tune reminds me of Phantasmagoria-era Damned, before lurching into another section. This didn’t grab me on first listen, but is now a firm favourite.

Twilight Subplot is hard to pin down; a slow, woozy psychedelic number. Let it wash over you. I can’t pretend to know what it’s about; I have my ideas but they could be completely wrong. Does it matter? Nope. A crescendo of horns and we’re onto…

…Getting A Licence and its Beatlesque, tabla-infused verse, which leads into another big chorus. Jon even manages to crowbar an odd solo in there. Result.

Clean allows Givvi to really shine. The band have alluded to the McCartneyisms herein. I’ve always loved Macca, so when the song takes a Hey Jude turn, it’s fine by me. You need a lot of talent to pull it off. Job done.

It occurs to me that over the last 18 months, most of my favourite albums have been released via Pledge Music. Time is showing that, as a musician, if you use this platform you need to offer something different; something people value. Thank you again Jon, Willie and Givvi, for giving us a free gig, Q+A sessions, extra tracks (The Straw Man is brilliant) and Jon’s unique gardening tips.

The Dowling Poole Facebook and Twitter.

All words by Martin Haslam, find his Louder Than War archive here.

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  1. I believe “Paper, Sciessors, Stone” is about the problem of evil and the randomness of life and death. “There’s a tyrant in the sky”. An atheist anthem!

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