Often over-looked and misunderstood, Trouble Over Bridgewater found itself wedged between two of Half Man Half Biscuit’s best albums, Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral and Cammell Laird Social Club. It can come across as a strangely inconsistent beast, however it unarguably contains some of HMHB’s most memorable moments, with Nigel Blackwell delivering a hilarious state-of-the-nation addresses delivered from a man who has spent his entire life living an everyday life on The Wirral.
Opener “Irk the Purists” finds music snobs in Blackwell’s all-too-accurate crosshairs, as he doesn’t spare our blushes to remind us that music is there to be enjoyed, not studied. Music fans are once more under the microscope during the house-music parody “Nove on the Sly”, where a tour bus full of cutting edge House DJs are all unbeknownst to each other listening to the mature sounds of BBC Radio 2 through their headphones.
Dark and humorous lyrics have always been Half Man Half Biscuit’s backbone, and here on Trouble Over Bridgewater they’re as good as they’ve ever been, with “Ballad of Climie Fisher”, “Used to be in Evil Gazebo” (a hilariously bleak tune about a self-important frontman of a no-hoper indie band being interviewed by a disinterested journalist from the NME) and “Emerging from the Gorse” being solid additions to their songbook. Darkest and most disturbing of all though is “Visitor for Mr Edmonds”, which consists of the sound of a life support machine being turned off…
There are moments of lightness too, with the quite beautiful “It’s Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas” doing away with Half Man Half Biscuit’s trademark silliness with a pretty straightforward and heartwarming message. Elsewhere we have the rocking “Uffington Wassail”, the singalong “Gubba Look-A-Likes”, and the hilariously accurate “Look Dad No Tunes”, the best song in a thematic thread of distinctly average music being made by hapless individuals whose ambition hugely dwarfs their talent. This thread weaves its way all the way through Trouble Over Bridgewater, and “Look Dad No Tunes” is its absolute apex.
On balance there are no particularly bad tracks to be found on Trouble Over Bridgewater, it’s weakness is that it seems to be sequenced in a slightly odd manner, which means it doesn’t flow as well as it should do, resulting in an album which just falls short of being the sum of its parts. Musically it’s business as usual for Half Man Half Biscuit, with perhaps a more obvious fondness for acoustic guitars than had previously been evident. Blackwell’s voice though remains unchanged, the sound of a bewildered council-estate genius raging at the stupidity and selfishness of the modern world.