By: Stuart Benjamin
The Dowling Poole | website | facebook | twitter | bandcamp |
Released on April 15, 2016 via 369Music
Ah yes, well, take a look at me, you lot. Here I am, thinking that I was all that with my obscure, obtuse and avant-garde noise record choices as my Albums of the Year, and then comes along this little beauty and BLOWS EVERYTHING OUT OF THE WATER!
Is it avant-garde? No! Is it obscure and wilfully obtuse? No!
So what the hell is it?
I’ll tell you what the hell it is, my friend, it’s everything you ever loved about 10cc, XTC, ELO, Queen, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Roxy Music, The Kinks, The Teardrop Explodes, you name ‘em. It’s British psychedelic pop without equal.
Jon Poole and Willie Dowling (who with Givvi Flynn form the nucleus of the band) are steeped in a love of classic 60s/70s/80s pop and rock – and aren’t short of rock ‘n’ roll credentials themselves (time served in, variously, Cardiacs, Ginger Wildheart Band, etc). In 2014 they released Bleak Strategies (now available for eye-wateringly extortionate pennies on Amazon, but much more reasonably priced on Bandcamp). The sophomore One Hyde Park follows in much the same vein, that vein being a genius, frankly, for a song that matches psychedelia, hard-rock, and politically sharp lyricism.
‘Rebecca Receiving’ – the lead single which came out back in February now – was something of a wrong footer – a seemingly frothy, summery upbeat number (it’s anything but) – designed to re-introduce the band and sets off the album, but from the moment ‘Fight, Fight, Fight’ punches its way out of the stereo, it’s pretty much a high octane ride the rest of the way. Subject matter includes media manipulation, soundbites, Twitter witch-hunts, stupidity, atheism, social injustice, poverty, Anglo-US relationships, British identity. Like all good pop it’s not simply a matter of boy-meets-girl (although there are tender moments on the record), rather it holds up a mirror to the world, and throughout there is a tension between the euphoric music, wall-of-sound production, and the harsh, questioning observations about modern life. In many ways it’s a very angry album and as a listener you will find so much to think about if you listen to the words as much as the music.
Every tune here is big – really big – and it seems that the band took the decision early on to put together a record of twelve singles, rather than developing it as a long-player in the usual sense. This in itself harks back to the way albums were made back in the 1960s when pop was still young and if you handed your thrupenny-bit over the counter to a sniffy assistant for a Beatles LP, you’d get all the singles on it. This has a number of advantages as it a) forces the band to exercise a great deal of quality control, b) stops an album being clogged up with filler, and c) certainly in the 60s it gave you a ton of potential charting hits – it’s a very pure method of making a record. It works so well on One Hyde Park as it challenges us to take each song individually on its merits – and it’s merits are legion. It’s the sort of thing that would have been massive in the charts twenty-years or so ago, and which should be massive now. The crying shame is that our pop industry has been overtaken by anodyne mediocrity – where song after song by performer after performer (I refuse to call them ‘artists’) sounds exactly the same, every day, all the time, and must be destroyed with fire.
Funnily enough, destroying things with fire is at the heart of this album. One Hyde Park – for those outside London, is the most exclusive and expensive pieces of real estate in the capital, a capital which this year had over 7,500 rough sleepers on the streets and many more citizens facing torturous hikes in rent prices, and a lack of social housing. No wonder The Dowling Poole imagine this carbuncle on the edge of the park hollowed out by an inferno in the urban dystopia of the title track ‘One Hyde Park’: “Barbed wire over Chelsea Bridge / Armed Guards on the square city mile / Slow dancing in Trafalgar Square / As the One Hyde Park building was burned to the ground”. I told you it was an angry album.
It’s a great co-incidence that for me, this album came into my hands just a few days after Brexit, and while I was in a slough of depression after an EU exit, which the majority had voted for – in an election, not led by informed debate, but by fear, misinformation, and polarisation on both sides. Confusion, disenfranchisement, disappointment – this is what I felt Britain was now (and it hasn’t got much better), so when I heard Willie Dowling singing “So what of dignity? And our identity? / Oh sacred freedom what became of you? / A nation fading fast, no longer trading on its past” on ‘Hope and Glory’ it spoke to me like a bolt out of the blue. The song ‘Vox Pops’, about ill judged and misinformed public opinion – well that just spoke volumes. It was, to be honest, just the right album I needed at the right time. Goddamn it! Music SHOULD speak to you like this – if it doesn’t then, well, you shouldn’t be listening to it.
The album is also something of a call to arms. The problems of poverty and homelessness raised in One Hyde Park are because, as Dowling sings “Good people did nothing at all”, the call to action is more overt in ‘American Teeth (English Pride)’ – “Black wreath – the English teeth hide something darker underneath / The smooth veneer is broken but they won’t be spoken to / That way anymore, so put on your boots of quiet authority / Then go kick down that door with your self-assured superiority.” The fact that this is all delivered with hands-in-the-air sing-a-long choruses, played with incredible musical virtuosity, is a stroke of cleverness that I’ll admire for the rest of my life.
In summary, 2016 has been a really shitty year for all kinds of reasons, One Hyde Park gives you twelve perfectly presented pop packages that will make you feel better. This is totally necessary in these times. You never know, perhaps one day somebody will burn down the One Hyde Park building, or better yet turn it into accommodation for refugees. It’s worth fighting for and The Dowling Poole have supplied the battle hymns. Buy a copy.