You’ve got to love Bethlehem Casuals, haven’t you? The new album from the Manchester septet – The Tragedy of Street Dog, sees a concept record – a road to discovering where all the music in Manchester has gone. But wait concept fans, thats not all. It’s from the perspective of a street dog.
As not, lets say, a huge fan of concept records, happily this works purely because the music also works. So the journey of the dog through infamous Manchester highlights such as Temple Bar, The Oxford Road and the Hacienda and past adversary’s such as River Rat the The Oke. And it that all sounds surreal then so it the matching journey of the music, as it sways between this sort of pop/art/punk/soul/jazz/prog thing, flutes and Saxophones working prominently against the traditional jazz set up, with elements of gypsy and Jewish music bleeding into the mix.
Right from album opener 80 something, one of the more straightforward jazz vibes, with wonky pop handily built into the middle of do we see the breadth of ideas and ambition of Bethlehem Casuals. And usually, they get this mish mash of styles blend together and work. When they get it perfect, such as on the brilliant ‘Context’ and the prog-pop/new wave of The Passion, it’s an absolutely exhilarating trip of a record.
Elsewhere, single The Oke, with its theatrical and dubby outlook striking a chord, and the Divine Comedy meets folk indie of the title track, shows that the band are able to sustain ideas (and probably more importantly melodies) for the whole of a full length, with the interludes (of which there are several) also proving to be fertile imaginative grounds and not merely fillers – the squelching electro bass of number IV being a favourite.
The fantastically dark storytelling of Magpie – ‘In Magpie Park after dark / Is where the silence crescendos to a peak’ as it plays out leads to the storys close and conclusions as set out in album closer ‘Change’, leave the listen to debate, think and reflect on an album that’s brilliant and unexpected and affecting and memorable and packed so full it’s plays out in glorious multicolour in front of you.
You’ve got to love Bethlehem Casuals, right? And we do.