From mid 80s post-punk beginnings which welded basic musicianship to barbed lyrics about life in Thatcher’s Britain, to a more competent and dynamic sound backing witty and wise wordsmithery throughout the 90s, Half Man Half Biscuit have continued to become slightly more sophisticated as time has gone on, without losing whatever it was that made them great in the first place. This is a band who even after over two decades of low-level fame have never alienated their audience, who still live in the same type of humble little homes that they lived in when they released their debut album. This is a band whose one concession to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is Nigel Blackwell’s custom guitar.
Which is in the shape of a caravan…
18 years after first forming is not when you expect a band to be releasing their best material, but Blackwell rose to the challenge of following up the classic Editor’s Recommendation mini-album by unleashing the best album of the band’s career (not that Blackwell would refer to it as a career). Cammell Laird Social Club finds Half Man Half Biscuit at their most quotable, memorable and tuneful. The fact that half decent production was affordable by the time of its release also makes this the one of the most ‘polished’ sounding releases by HMHB, but no matter how clean the sound, it can’t hide the fact that Blackwell’s songs have a bite to them that few lyricists can boast.
Another noticeable improvement in the band’s sound was the fact that, after years of being a skillful sideman, guitarist Ken Hancock came roaring to the fore as one of the least likely guitar heroes in the history of popular music and become the unbridled riff-monster none of us knew he could be.
At the end of the day though, it’s Blackwell’s songs which are HMHB’s unique selling point and Cammell Laird Social Club boasts one of the highest concentration of classics on any of their albums. From ode’s to girlfriends leaving the idyllic country village of your youth to hoover up class-A’s in London (“The Light at the End of the Tunnel (Is the Light of an Oncoming Train)”), via football officials sounding off about what annoys them about their job (“The Referee’s Alphabet”), and ending in the sound of a cascade of guitar noise and a volley of swearing due to you having unintentionally kicked something very hard (“Stavanger Töestub”), Cammell Laird Social Club captures more aspects of human life than you would expect and is still chock full of revelations after a multitude of listens. For me though, the absolute highlight of the album is another one of Blackwell’s skewed looks at matters of the heart – “Them’s The Vagaries” finds our hero revealing his foibles to the new love of his life in a hilariously frank and straight-forward manner.
While Cammell Laird Social Club found HMHB at a new peak of their powers, it may not be the best album for the uninitiated, though when it does find its way into your collection, it will become one of the most frequently played albums in your collection. You will also feel an undeniable urge to track down Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hull by The Humber Stooges…