Kill Pretty: Dark Heart – album review
Friends of the Fall, allies of the Mob, Manchester Underdogsâ¦.Ged Babey uses over 2000 words to explain why this is his favourite album of the year.
If I had a motto, which I don’t, apropos my role as a rock critic of sorts, it’d be Champion the Underdog’. To be sung to the tune of Champion the Wonder-Horse.
If I said this was my Album of the Year what I’d actually mean is that it is my personal favourite, rather than technically or objectively the best album that I’ve heard all year. It is definitely the one I’ve spent the most man-hours listening to¦ And the only one where a song has made me cry, others made me laugh out loud and one in particular summed up life, death and where I stood in relation to the two at a point eighteen months back¦
It’s not an album that will appeal to everyone. Only people who believe in punk as personal expression and a survival mechanism rather than three-chords and a hairstyle; Only people who believe in attitude rather than ability, freedom over rules and love rather than money. Only people who think that its not that strange how potent cheap music is, to misquote Noel Coward. People who believe in art for fucks-sake rather than for arts sake and that it has to say something to them about their lives.
Despite having some cool connections with the Ghosts of Manchester Past, Kill Pretty are probably the most deeply unfashionable band in Britain, if not the world. Three follically-challenged, big-boned blokes over the age of fifty and a 17-year-old bassplayer who happens to be the guitarists son.
The singer is living legend, a cuddly psychopath called Moet. A man who saw the Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976, formed a chaotic band called the Hamsters in 1981, and had a brilliant book written about his life that came out this year.
The drummer is a former member of the Fall, the Teddy Boy one, MJ Leigh, who played on Dragnet, Fiery Jack and Rowche Rumble and is now a dead ringer for Arthur Lowe from Dads Army.
The guitarist Chris Dutton is also in the current line-up of Factory Star, who are Martin Bramahs band (he was leader of the Blue Orchids after also being in the Fall.)
The bassist is his son Josh, a superb young musician and the only band member with all his own teeth and hair and is not under doctors orders.
Moets Hamsters were signed to Cog Sinister, Mark E Smiths label for bizarre Manchester bands and lunatics and their only recorded appearance is on the Disparate Cognoscenti album ¦ so as you can see its tangled web centred on the Fall ¦ and to make matters worse Kill Pretty sometimes moonlight as the Hamsters¦ Craig Scanlon (The Fall) and Larry Gott (James) have also had in hand in Kill Pretty making it even more incestuous¦ and I won’t even mention the legendary/imaginary band that existed for a week in 1985 which featured Peter Hook, Mike Joyce, Marc Riley and Moet called the Miseries.
Kill Pretty are the true sound of back-street Manchester and its boroughs and you can hear it in their music, from the Mondays lurch of Raining Blood to the garage guitar-sound of Devoto-era Buzzcocks on Breakdown Man to the Rowche Rumble drum-pattern recycled for Love Twists. That said, there is something very like the sense of fun and inventive Krautrock influenced playing that Swell Maps brought to the world with a Trip To Marineville, (only with gruffer, shoutier vocals).
I was going to ask Kill Pretty how they came up with the bands name but as Moets a massive Iggy fan I guess they cut up all the individual words that make up the Stooges song titles, shuffled them up William Burroughs style and pulled them out of a hat â¦ but instead of calling the band Fun Dog, they did it again.
A music biz insider once told me that proper reviewers from say, the NME, the mainstream music press, who earn a living by writing about music, when confronted with an album to review, listen to it once, usually not even the whole way through, maybe just the first three tracks, then write the review. I was shocked by this. Bands spend months, years, writing, performing, recording â¦pouring their heart and soul into the songs, sweating blood, spending money they can ill afford on an album; Music/songs are an emotional rush of thoughts, feelings, ideas, pain, anger, sorrow¦.and some cunt in London (generally) gives it ten minutes of their precious time and gives a verdict, full of smugness, bias, bile and disinterest.
This is why Iâm not a professional, because I give a shit. I only say this as Iâve listened to Dark Heart every day for four-six weeks; some days four or five times in row. On the bus, doing the housework, itâs become a part of my life, my daily routine ¦ Why? Because its a great album and I love it obviously, but also because it merits it. Theres a lifetimes-worth of experiences of love/hate heartache/joy observations/ideas distilled and condensed into these songs. Lyrically specifically, but the music also has odd traces of other musics from different kitchens which its always fun trying to place¦ a bit of Public Image here, a bit of Hawkwind there, the Doors, Augustus Pablo¦.and so on. If I totally honest though, which I have to be¦. The reason I love Kill Pretty so much is that, to me, they are (unintentionally) the sound of John Peel shows 1979-81, not just one band though, about ten different ones post-punk, pre-punk, experimental, garage¦even dub.
It was the title track of Dark Heart I heard first. It was sent to me over the Internet by Steve Shy; a kindred spirit who Iâve never met, but knows my tastes from my reviews and Facebook ramblings. He produced Shytalk fanzine in 1977 and knocked about with my hero Paul Morley at the time. He didnt say much about the track, just, a local band, you might like this, let me know..
Dark Heart is twelve minutes plus, a total epic in the same mould as Sister Ray, The End by the Doors or Theme from the first PIL album. Yeah, it’s long but necessarily so and still, the second it finishes you immediately want to hear it again because it leaves you drained but exhilarated. It is a nightmarish exorcism of dread, fear, anger. Spoken-word poetry, top-end bass-playing, melodica, which builds into a ranting, raging, cacophony of guitar feedback and spiralling noise and effects which sound like Lee Scratch Perry wrestling with the unquiet spirit of Martin Hannett over the mixing desk. Moets lyrics are vented thru a distorted microphone giving it a Mark Stewart in the Pop Group kind of sound but which ends up more akin to a demented dalek. The song is about getting old(er), becoming ill, due to, in part, lifestyle-choices and facing death. It’s beautiful written, based on firsthand experience no doubt:
my survival is taking precedence
over repeated decadence
I’ve digested the evidence
that says im going to die
prioritising my survival
i want to see the sun rise
when i see its arrival
its signalling I’m still alive
At its climax, Moets dalek-scream into the heart of darkness is I WILL SURVIVE, I WILL NOT DIE!
When Steve Shy sent me the song I guess he knew I had gone thru chemo & radio-therapy and surgery for cancer as I’d documented it on facebook. So yeah, there was no way I could not relate to that song. But I’m 99.9% certain I’d still have liked it 18 months earlier. If it all sounds a bit grim and depressing it’s not, because without divulging the whole lyric, there are mad hatters, rabbits and Moet is wearing a Kill Me Quick hat, which was exactly the same way I dealt with the possibility of faceing the Grim Reaper; laugh in the fuckers face.
The rest of the album is completely different. The opener is called Mirror Factory. A great song, brilliant lyrics, a clever chorus; “I got a job in a mirror factory / I didn’t like what I see” - but the wrong choice as track One as its mid-paced, the most oddball, Beefheart type song.
Andrews World is next; A Garage Punk krautrocker which asks who was it destroyed the boy who’ll never be a man?. A story with half the narrative missing about abuse, gender-confusion and mental illness. It’s like a nastier Walk on the Wild Side set in Salford played by the Nosebleeds jamming with Can.
Soundcloud of Andrews World by Kill Pretty
Breakdown Man is like Born to Be Wild or Have Love Will Travel a driving song. The music becomes a revving engine converting itself into a sonic representation of motion. Silver Machine style bubble noises help the propulsion but it’s the narration that puzzles at first and draws you in. The Breakdown Man is there to help, tools dangling from my belt, I am the man you can rely on. Four verses extol the virtues of the man who is always willing to go the extra mile. He sees himself as a shepherd looking after the lambs.. . but then, he has a breakdown, not a mechanical one, his desperation goes un-noticed, “trying to signal my distress / sending out an SOS. Breakdown man has broken down, no help can be found”. It’s a great Garage punk song, a total classic. The analogy being people who are always there to help other, sometimes need help themselves, but get neglected (or maybe its just a song with a dumb play on words – the double meaning of the word breakdown?)
Conversation (aka Sylvia Fading) is the tearjerker; a gentle, sad song, which I guessed, was about a parent with Alzheimers.. Poetic, melancholy but full of love without having to actually resort to sentimentality.. The guitar is a stark bit of Billy Bragg-like playing with a hint of third album Velvet Underground about it. It starts and ends with the line “Our conversation seems to go round in circles these days”, Its heartbreaking but speaks volumes about Moets songwriting abilities. It’s a unique love song and a painfully beautiful one.
Clever Men Who Have Thin Arms; Well, there simply are not enough punk rock songs which feature a kazoo. or is it Sweep from Sooty & Sweep rapping? Chris Duttons guitar sound on this one is an exceptional racket. The vocal style/melody is reminiscent of John Robbs “mob orator” style. Its about class and privilege and has some great imagery “the statues of our leaders, leave us in the shadows”¦ And the clever men with thin arms? Pen pushers who have never done a days physical graft in their lives, hence no muscle.
Devil In Here sounds a bit like Swell Maps. I’ve spent hours trying to suss out what the lyrics to this one are about; paranoia? Alcoholism? Or just the plain old in-built self-destruct mechanism men have when they reach a certain age. “Got a job, got a car, got a caravan. I’m a diligent devoted family man”… but a devil takes over, “he’s a mole. Autonomous and out-of-control” wreaking havoc.
Love Twists another song built on an amazing bit of bass-playing from young Dutton Jnr and the old Rowche beat. What this is quite about is hard to say; ageing? – Love & death & Manchester? drug gangs? It’s the most angry song with its images of drool and spittle, Draculas Elves, an execution at the bus-stop and a crippled kid, his nose is runny. On these last three songs Kill Pretty really do sound less than half their age.
Rob a Bank is either a pastiche or a Clash homage a la Bank Robber/Stay Free, to outlaw chic and the romance of the outsider – full of siuationist slogans and cliches telling a Bonnie & Clyde style story of anarchists-in-love and on-the-run. Its a great singalong punk-anthem and the obvious choice for the double a-side single (with the non-album Raining Blood).
Released on the Mobs co-operative label, All the Madmen, it may not be what fans of the anarcho-punk band initially are expecting but they may be surprised at how attached they’ll become to Kill Pretty, given a few listens.
Kill Pretty are my kind of band, because they represent every old-enough-to-know-better underdog band from every godforsaken forgotten backstreet rehearsal studio in every provincial town in the UK. A band who believe in what they do, who do it for the love of it and to express themselves rather than for fame or reward. They make a beautiful fuckin’ racket, full of heart & soul.
Kill Pretty play London N19’s Boston Arms (with The Mob, Andy T, Hagar The Womb, The Astronauts) on November 30th 2012 (Doors 7.00pm) Tickets HERE.
All words by Ged Babey, more writing by Ged on Louder Than War can be found here.