Reinvention of the self in the music world is nothing new. It’s been done, ad infinitum. Lennon, Bowie, Bono and Beyonce have all adopted alter egos at some stage in their careers. Reasons vary, as do results. Blur’s Damon Albarn was the unmistakable voice behind Gorillaz’ frontman “2D”, an inspired direction for Albarn heralding a massive departure from the Blur sound with which he was so synonymous. Early in his career, Hank Williams created “Luke the Drifter,” a nom de plume for an idealized character who went across the country preaching the gospel and doing good deeds while Hank, the wayward drunk, cheated on women and generally ran amok. For a music artist, an alter ego can provide a vessel for traversing new musical terrain while minimizing the risk of alienating an already existing fan base (see Garth Brooks as “Chris Gaines.” Worse again, watch the VH1 mockumentary that followed. Yikes!).
For David Hopkins, the transmogrification from crooning, Irish singer-songwriter into enigmatic, anglofied, Bombay Heavy front man provides a doorway to a new chapter in an already impressive career. Enter Barnabus Wu. Wu represents Hopkins’ road back to musical stylings he seems irrefutably at home with. Think Caravan, Led Zeppelin, The Who. Think Ian Dury. Think Abbey Road era Beatles. Come to think of it, in this 5-track E.P. Wu and co doff their hats to much of what’s been brilliant about British rock n’ roll through the decades.
Opening track ‘I’ll Be Your Dog’ sets the tone with a stomping groove laid down by drummer Rob Whited, accompanied by crunchy rhythm guitars courtesy of the brilliant Zamo P. Riffman. The droll vocal/lyric delivery in the verses gives way to a chorus that finds Wu’s tongue firmly planted in his cheek. The flippant tone seems a little at odds with the lush, Beatles-esque harmonies present at various junctures in the track, but somehow it all knits together nicely. It’s a great opener that crescendos to a double-time outro that drives the track all the way home and will leave you singing, “I’ll be your dog, I’ll be your monkey” for days after. Word to the wise: avoid doing this in public!
‘Non Pants’ rachets up the psychedelia by working heavily processed vocals, reverse reverbs, driving bass, dissonant chordal progressions and relentless, but never overbearing fret work into the fold. It’s a steady builder this one, climaxing with the bands narrator, Tony Curtis (that rather distinguished looking, pinstriped gent on the album’s front cover), channeling the spirit of Ian Dury’s ‘Plaistow Patricia,’ in a tirade worthy of the man himself.
The album’s middle song ‘As A Matter Of Fact’ shifts gears several times, morphing from the trippy randomness of the track’s intro into the ebb and flow of the opening verse. The bridge changes things up once more, a reggae groove lulling the listener into a short-lived sense of security, while the chorus transports us full throttle back to Surrey in the early 1980’s with The Jam in their pomp. Nowhere is this more evident than in the songs refrain and title.
All too soon we reach the album’s penultimate track. There’s something very poignant about ‘This Is A Joke.’ Poignant and yet wryly amusing, affected once again by Wu’s cleverly weighted vocal delivery and exemplified in verse 2:
“She has, highfalutin dreams,
Of swimming in blue water,
And getting off her knees,
I pity her, that bird,
But she should’ve done her sums,
He says, ‘I love you tomorrow,’
But tomorrow never comes”
A particular high-water mark is the chorus. The alluring, seductive, siren-like vocal by an unnamed female vocalist is enough to leave you hypnotized, and that’s before arriving at the 2 minute prog-jam outro.
‘Your Love Is Not Enough’ marks a return to the droll style inherent in the album’s opener, the lazy groove providing the soapbox from which Wu speaks so wittily. It’s a great tonic to the mesmerically meandering outro of ‘This Is A Joke’ and a great way to bring the curtain down on a brilliant debut from the band.
With 5 top-rate tunes already under their belt one can only assume that there’s loads more to come from the Las Vegas/London based outfit. A full length album for this spring has been touted with a tour to follow. Here’s hoping. Oh, and did I mention that 2 of The Killers, (Mark Stoermer – Bass, and Dave Keuning – Guitar) also make guest appearances? Mr. Wu it would seem, has friends in some very high places. Somehow, I’m not surprised.
Stay tuned for more from Bombay Heavy. In the meantime, their self-titled E.P. is available for a steal on Bandcamp. Check it out! You won’t be disappointed.