Jonny Cola And The A Grades – Spitfire (Scratchy Records)
CD / DL / LP
Available from Sept 4th 2013
It’s been a while since the last Jonny Cola And The A Grades album – they’ve had a lot on their plates, but they’re back and full of beans – Martin Haslam listens to their new album for Louder Than War.
I’m getting used to press releases spouting about their great new signings and their ‘tough times overcome against all odds’ e.t.c. I am, frankly, too old to be conned. The thing about the ageing process is that, annoyingly, you have generally heard it all before, done better. Having said this, Jonny Cola‘s story is worthy of a film.
The wait between albums was due to Mr Cola’s need for a kidney transplant. In time, it was agreed that his fiancée was a suitable match and she donated one of her healthy kidneys. I doubt she will be short of flowers, if he knows what’s good for him. This process has seen the band take life by the scruff of the neck and run with it wherever they want. In doing so, they’ve expanded on their previous release in style and content.
‘Spitfire’ is, at first listening, an odd creature.We begin with said plane flying overhead, launching into glam-stomper ‘In The Woods’. A touch of Mansun, great high pitched backing vocals reminiscent of Visconti’s T-Rex duties. Jonny’s vocals remind me a little here of ‘Random’ Jon Poole, no bad thing at all.
This continues with ‘Tropical Beach’; a slightly early Ants intro, before entering prime era Pulp. “I’ve got a bottle of rum and I’m aching for some and look, my heart’s still beating”. Jonny has talked about desire being heightened when the body is weak. Lyrically, it’s a clear statement of intent; I don’t want to wait anymore, this is my time.
‘Straight To Video’ is a longer song, leading us into the depth of the album. There are touches of Pulp and Suede here but they’re reference points, not lazy pastiche. It’s all over the place; like the best bits of the 70’s, it’s hard to pin down. After several listens, I can say that I love this song. It’s insidious; it sneaks up on you, then you realise you’ve fallen for it big time. It’s Jonny’s baby but it works due to the ability of the band to follow his vision.
‘Rain Stopped Play’ is short and snappy. A more angular, edgy song. The urgency combines with the lyrics; “we’re drowning for sure, miles out from the shore”.
‘Blow Up’ is back in lascivious territory. Ants drumming, chunky Bolan riff. “Don’t talk with your mouth full” has a hint of Brett Anderson at his youthful best, unhindered by maturity. No shortage of hormones here.
‘Going Over’ has a nice, lurching melody and insistent guitars but the piano and arrangement turn it into something more than it could have been in lesser hands. Nice.
‘Semaphore’ is storytelling of more lustful encounters. Pomp, in a very good way. If I were younger, I could have been mildly obsessed with this.
”Sunset/Sunrise’ is their epic here; 6 mins 27 of sky-reaching splendour. Shades of ‘Psychomodo’ Cockney Rebel, twin guitars, spoken-word interlude. Ambitious, it is almost three songs in one but they manage to pull it off as a coherent piece. I can’t single out any one person for praise here, this is a showcase for the musicianship of the whole band. If it’s a glimpse of things to come, they can do pretty much anything they want.
‘Wronghead’ does have a riff that it would appear Bernard Butler has overlooked, but when it’s this good, why not?. Great prominent bass line. Just don’t hit the mic on your bum…
‘Out Of The Woods’ leads us out of the other end of the journey. Piano-led, lush and melancholic. This wouldn’t shame Bowie, certainly there’s a hint of Ronson in the guitars and I can’t give much better praise than that.
This was my introduction to Jonny Cola And The A Grades. It’s left me intrigued, a little baffled and relieved that there are still young bands out there with the ambition to aim for the stars and the talent to succeed for the most part. Most bands that I love are doomed to die in obscurity and poverty. Just this once people, prove me wrong. They deserve better.
All words by Martin Haslam. More work by Martin on Louder Than War can be found here.