Joe Gideon and the Shark – Freakish (Bronzerat Records)
Where the hell do you go after an album like ‘Harum Scarum’?
Joe Gideon and the Shark’s debut record was a hell of a find. An extraordinarily colourful collection of psychedelic stories – demented yet sympathetic eulogies to a bunch of (hopefully) fictitious weirdos, set to a fashionably succinct swamp-rock beat.
It was amazing. And to cap it all, these damaged people – unsavoury evangelists, failed session singers, blank-faced idiots – turned out to be only marginally stranger than the brother and sister double-act who were dreaming them into life. For God’s sake, people! The woman on drums in the tiger-stripe catsuit calls herself The Shark! She’s a former Olympic gymnast! So, yes. Where on EARTH can you go after a record like that?
Try the snake house at the zoo? Or the year 1975? How about the cab of a speeding tube train being driven by a super-stoned Rasta? Or a ditch by a road in Los Angeles? Yeah – let’s start with those places.
In ‘Freakish’, Joe Gideon and the Shark have fearlessly upped their own impressive ante. None of the characters on ‘Harum’ are quite as psychotic as the Jack Nicholson-esque animal-lover in ‘Ruined’. Or, indeed, as dangerously sordid as the reptile-house stalker in ‘Snake Candy’. Come to think of it, the manic way Joe Gideon and his sister repeatedly command each other to “lighten up” throughout ‘The Insignificant Bullet’ cannot easily be passed off as anything approaching normal behaviour.
To be sure, this was to be expected. Wasn’t this second album always going to come across like the musical equivalent of a Kurt Vonnegut anthology? With additional scoop of London eccentricity for good measure?
Of course. But for all its thrilling tales and lyrical twists, ‘Freakish’ is a devilishly understated piece of work. Just like the quiet bits in Pixies songs where Black Francis has yet to scream blue bloody murder, there is more calm than storm. Opening twang aside, the Nick Cave-ish gothic horror musical undertones of ‘Harum’ have all gone – swept away on a tide of, well, krautrock.
Truthfully, ‘Freakish’ is hewn from all the bits of ‘Neu! 1975’ that David Bowie forgot to pinch for Low and “Heroes”. It’s jammed with staggeringly infectious tune after tune, each and every one a serious rival to the cool vibe established in 1977 by ‘V-2 Schneider’ or perhaps the teutonic playfulness of Iggy’s ‘Mass Production’. Just like all the best movie psychopaths, Joe Gideon tells his tales just a tiny bit too loudly – adding to an overall air of delicious disquiet.
The shufflingly infectious title track is like The latter-day Fall at their very best – a winning lottery ticket of a tune that astounds with its aceness. The menace in its message is directed at those clever, creative, inventive, heroic types who leave their peers behind to tread their own course. The mavericks who ‘think around corners’.
‘They’re not like me,’ sings Joe.
All words Andy Barding. More features by Andy on Louder Than War can be found here.