Album Review : Scott Lavene – ‘Disneyland in Dagenham’ : More alt-songs of wit, wisdom, life, love and laughs from the Essex story-teller.

The Breakdown

This new album clearly sees him rolling on, still stepping forward often by looking back, aging, more weathered but writing songs that genuinely matter.
Nothing Fancy 8.9

Steve Earle coined the phrase ‘Hard-core Troubadour’ probably with one eye on himself and the other on Townes Van Zandt but it’s a tag you could easily stick into Scott Lavene’s bio. Yes he’s from Essex not Texas but there are plenty of trucks around Tilbury docks and his story in its own way fits the troubadour m.o. In bands since a teenager, stints in France, New York and on a broken down boat, he’s been chugging along the music pathway and generally wandering about for some time now. But he’s managed to release some great music along the way, songs filled with wit and wisdom, about everyday people and uncelebrated places, tears in your eye stuff from a laugh or a little cry.

More recently things have been shuffling forward for Lavene with London label Nothing Fancy taking him on for his third album, ‘Milk City Sweethearts’ in 2021. Barratt, early Bowie and Dury references began to appear alongside muso recognition for his fine song-smithery plus Craig Finn (of the Hold Steady) declared fan love. Now here we are in 2024 with the release of his fourth album, once more courtesy of Nothing Fancy, entitled ‘Disneyland in Dagenham’.

This time around the intention was to move on from the wry nostalgia for days gone by and write more from his present. As he says “These days I’m a dad of three. So initially I just wanted to make an album about living in the suburbs and raising kids.” You might not expect a song called Rats to nibble affectionately at Lavene’s more conventional world of today but it does. All twinkly vibes and cozy electric pianos, it has the knowing feel of an old soul ballad dusted down for a sing song. Fitting the bill for “something nice and cheesy” as requested by Lavene’s partner in the lyric, it’s left to his instinctive lyrical twists to ease the track magically beyond the ordinary. “Clutching at straws and at saviours, watching the rats eating raisins/ A pale moon in the sky and a spark in her eye” is just one of those lines that delivers.

The breezy 4/4 tick of Custard similarly treads that fine balance between whimsy and warmth with panache. Lavene’s dry humour and fine punch line timing spill naturally all over this song. How about “I told my daughter we could get a dog. She said that she’ll do all the walking/ But I know that’s not true, because she’s only five and five year olds don’t walk dogs alone/ So it’s gonna be me in the morning, picking up its turds…” There are Bonzo-like, deft touches to the music here (the backing vocal repeats of ‘night shift, night shift, night shift’ plus the fruity sax fill at the mention of underpants) and a woozy psychedelic close with flutes that colour the imagery. But as always with Lavene’s songs such casual observations and asides lead to more ambiguous places, of staying indoors and watching “all the bloomin’ idiots” from the window.

Maybe it’s those feelings he hints at in Custard or his natural story telling inclination but Lavene doesn’t stay stuck in suburbia for too long on ‘Disneyland in Dagenham’. The title track finds him drifting back to his Essex memories now tinged with the hindsight of age and well-worn honesty. Part spoken, part sung, a reflection sparked by the pub quiz treasure that in the 80s the Walt Disney Corporation pencilled in not Paris for its theme park but the sprawling industrial hinterland of Dagenham. Lavene takes his love song to the A13 deeper than Billy Bragg’s affectionate rocker from years back, remembering the grit and glow of the place to the simple shimmer of acoustic guitar and folksy keyboard hum.

Horse and I extends the ‘have you heard the one about…’ theme’ with Lavene on his finest deadpan raconteur behaviour. It’s ridiculously funny and beautifully poignant in that John Prine way, a fable about shifting friendships between a travelling showman and his talking horse – just listen and you’ll get the drift. What adds relish to the track is the canny musical detailing that Lavene and producer Ben Woods, from The Golden Dregs, weave around the narrative. Sombre piano and soundtrack brass flutter while weeping guitars and burbling synths nestle into Lavene’s lyrics to add some subtle drama.

With his last album being put together in his Mum’s garage, the excursion to a bone fide recording studio in Greenwich, albeit cadged as a favour during the dead zone of December, serves the new album music well. Lavene doesn’t overplay the opportunity, keeping things economic, but allowing additions when the time is right. The faithful lo-fi pop punk tap of his drum machine remains but on songs like Sadly I’m Not Steve McQueen, Ben Woods chunky kit beats and some fuzzed up bass adds muscle. Perhaps the wacky tale of Debbie sees the sonic ambitions stretch furthest as it ramps up the low-tech psychedelia to frisky surrealistic levels. With a meme waiting to happen (‘Clang Clang – It’s not a toaster’) and Scott doing a fine Robert Palmer skit, the song crackles with a Brenda’s Iron Sledge/Robyn Hitchcock quirky inventiveness.

When reflecting on this new album Lavene has noted that love and relationships, new or old, underpin many of his songs even when the lyrics, such as with Debbie, keeps it under the covers. Things are more open in the swaggering geezer rock meets funky Kasabian snapshot of Julie Johnson (“ I wrote love notes on the beer mats while she was getting rounds in”) and even more brazen (and brave) on its musically polar opposite, the lush orchestral, crooner Little Bird. Probably most touching though is the simple sadness of Paper Roses, where Lavene is joined by the distinctive yearn of Craig Finn for two minutes of pared back perfection. “Spider webs and poisoned darts, paper roses cannot fix two broken hearts” is a line that would rest easy in the Nick Lowe song-book.

Lavene recognises that many find his music “marmitey” but ‘“Disneyland In Dagenham‘ sounds more like he has accepted this and come up with his most consistent set of songs which are true to what he wants . Only the doo wop pastiche of Keeping it Local seems a shade more constructed, despite taking a finely tuned swipe at the new gentry. Clearly this new album sees him rolling on, still stepping forward often by looking back, aging, more weathered but continuing to craft songs that genuinely matter.

Get your copy of ‘Disneyland in Dagenham‘ by Scott Lavene from your local record shop or direct from Nothing Fancy HERE

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