With references to long distance haulage companies, pear drops and heavy metal groups of the 80s, it’s no surprise that lyrical diversity is a strength of This Leaden Pall. What is perhaps a little more surprising is all these references are squeezed into the opening number… Welcome to the obscure, unique, and yes, occasionally downright honest world of Half Man Half Biscuit.
Compared to the corporate angst merchants that the press were in thrall to during the early 90s, This Leaden Pall provides ironic angst anthems for those of us that weren’t convinced by grunge. Just short of two decades later, it (like most HMHB albums) holds a mirror up to every day life in a way that some acts strive their whole career to achieve and completely fail to do. Take for example “Running Order Squabble Fest”, an amusingly accurate story of bickering second-rate bands that must have had promoters up and down the UK sobbing into their hands with recognition. “Turned Up, Clocked On, Laid Off” conveys the depression of being made redundant in the middle of a recession without actually being depressing and “4AD3DCD” gives those of us who try too hard to be cool both barrels.
I must confess, after a few initial listens I found This Leaden Pall to be uphill work, as there’s a couple of dips in quality here and there. However, over the years those same tracks that I felt caused the album to drag a little have revealed themselves to be foundations of the album and when you consider that this album contains great songs you’ve never heard like “Whiteness Thy Name Is Meltonian” and “Numanoid Hand-glide”, you can’t help but realise that it’s one of the band’s key releases. Any album that manages to close with such a beautiful and highly original reading of “Footsteps”, really can’t be anything less than an under-appreciated work of one hell of a band. I could also go into raptures about Carl Alty’s drumming throughout the album, but complimenting Half Man Half Biscuit on musical prowess is akin to saying that the Mona Lisa has a nice frame.
This Leaden Pall is the album which confirmed that Half Man Half Biscuit’s reunion was not going to be a flash-in-the-pan affair focused on cynically squeezing a bit more cash out of a nostalgic fanbase, as the vast majority of band reunions are. Indeed, it is a testament to the work ethic of Half Man Half Biscuit, and particularly that of lyrical genius bandleader Nigel Blackwell, that they are almost unique in the history of popular music in that the albums they released after they reformed are as good as, if not better, than those they released before they split.
Twenty years later and This Leaden Pall is one of the few albums from the early 90s that continues to hold my interest to this day.