Album Review: The Big Special – Postindustrial Hometown Blues

Isaac Watson

The Breakdown

Proof that the working class really do produce the best talent.

The Big Special consist of poet/frontman Joe Hicklin and previous session/function band drummer Callum Moloney, a former bandmate of Hicklin. Not content with writing acoustic-led, melodic, easy-going songs, Hicklin had words to say that didn’t suit that vibe and instead required a harsher backing to go with the harsh truth of his words. Songs about desperation and struggle, a decline in Britain, finding pride in your darkest moments, and how the real class war in the UK is always punching downwards.

An auspicious start with ‘Black Country Gothic’ that builds with drums and bass before vocals take over, and the album starts properly with a banger of a track. This is what the boys are about. Thumping hypnotic bass and politically intelligent lyrics are done with working-class gritts and hearts very much on their sleeves. It goes almost Springsteen-esque on the chorus. ‘Black Dog / White Horse’ follows in the same vein a commanding performance.

The boys picked the singles from this album well. ‘Black Dog / White Horse’, ‘Butchers Bin’ and ‘Dust Off / Start Again’ and ‘Trees’ cover the full stance of this album. From the soulful ‘Black Dog…’ the epic drum fest of Butchers Bin and the manic ‘Dust Off / Start Again’. These tracks stand fiercely on their own, but as part of this 15-track album, they are nothing short of world-changing. There is no fancy language or sugarcoating, just honesty and intelligent lyrics that get straight to the heart of the matter.

The urban attack of ‘I Mock Joggers’ is an internal struggle that matches the rhyming vitriol on ‘Shithouse’ with its indie chorus and vicious lyrics delivered in a spit of passion. Shimmering guitars over manic laughing draws you in with the clapping drums and short vocal phrasing. It’s a rousing anthem, “a self-lament. It’s about a breakdown”. ‘iLL’ follows on and shines with its post-punk synth-led chorus over crashing cymbals. Some clever guitar riffing breaks up the monotone attack.

The driving rhythms continue with ‘Desperate Breakfast,’ and you appreciate Moloney’s being behind the drum kit. He keeps things interesting and does a fine job with the minimalistic style. “It’s about getting up and going to work and having to force a meal down before you go and spend a day doing something you don’t want to do for someone who doesn’t respect you”

Some heart-wrenching soul next with a superb desperate vocal from Hicklin ‘This Here Ain’t Water’. This boy can sing. Really sing. What Huicklin can do with a line surpasses what most can do with an entire song with a full band. For a duo, they craft music that is a strange kind of complicated minimalism. It’s all about feeling and emotions and bellowing depression. Proof that the working class really do produce the best talent.

My Shape (Blocking The Light) is where the poetry really shines. There are moments of humour, but it’s bleak and real. The distorted prayer to close has some beauty to it. A spot of ear relief comes with ‘For The Birds’. A piano-led poetic two minutes will have you stop in your tracks just to listen. Hope rises with the synths. I haven’t heard these fiery and relatable lyrics like these for some time. People like Tom Waits or Ben Caplan have the same ability to make words into art. Maloney isn’t to be left out either, and the band wouldn’t be anywhere near as good without his drumming.

The Hope-filled tracks continue with some added nostalgia. ‘Broadcast: Time Away’ sees a young Hicklin dreaming of bigger things, something counteracted by the street preaching on ‘Mongrel’. It’s straight to the listener and demands attention. It’s short and angry about dreams that have failed. However, the duo aren’t content with leaving things in the dumps. Ending the album with the final track, ‘DiG!’. A slowly built epic that ends things on a higher note. A cosy, warm glow that ends in a glorious theatrical trumpet-filled spectacular. These guys can craft something special. Having great lyrics is one thing; it’s something else when the music matches.

You have the combination of Hicklin’s passionate vocals from gritty outbursts to the grand rock lungfuls with the powerful, brutal music, particularly Moloney’s phenomenal drumming; just listen to the closing of ‘Butchers Bin’. These are songs of the environment. Like the days of Thatcher, whether it’s the time that reflects the band or the band that reflects the time, there has always been that one band that stands up and becomes important because of what they say. “I’m not saying I have any answers–our songs are reactive. They’re loud, and they’re fun, and they’re honest and emotional”

Check out the bands track ‘This Here Ain’t Water’, below:

Find out more via the bands Website or Facebook

Purchase the album here

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