“Call in the Crash Team” LYR (Mercury KX) – spoken word/music review

LYR Simon Armitage Patrick Pearson and Richard Walters band photoLYR is Simon Armitage, Patrick Pearson and Richard Walters and “Call in the Crash Team” has 11 tracks, mixing poems with music. Each track takes a fictional character and a tour through post-industrial landscapes and austerity from marginalised voices. First track, “The First Time”, muses on the girl first slept with a decade on, with Simon Armitage reading over a background of keyboards and kora.

“Gone your own way now
Nothing to say now.
Still mouthing your name though
Ten years to the day now.”

Next up, “Zodiac T-Shirt” is the track that gives the album its title,

“Zodiac T-Shirt
Paper clip bracelet
Mercury rising
Call in the crash team.”

It seems to hark back to teenage years with a mix of poppy optimism and pessimistic lyrics. One stanza reads,

“We pull up a tree
And plant a rose
A cigarette dies
Another one glows.”

“Never Good With Horses” focuses on a woman who could pin insects in cases, dry flowers, keep a rabbit’s foot on a keyring but couldn’t cope with real, living things as the chorus, “But you were never good with horses were you my dear” reminds her and claims she “couldn’t bear to look in the dark pools of their eyes”.

“Urban Myth #91” ups the background to accelerated percussion and discordant piano in a song about sticking to a middle lane and avoiding the barricades. The theme of ordinariness and routine is picked up again in “Adam’s Apple”, a song about tying a necktie while looking in the mirror and not really seeing what’s there. “Product Testing”, a mere 56 seconds, builds towards a punch line that is deliberately, ironically anti-climactic.

With “Great Coat” listeners are in similar territory to “Adam’s Apple” with added pathos “It’s a great coat all right. Now that you’re gone/ just never ask me to put it on.” It’s the coat you can’t get rid of but carries so many memories, it can’t be junked and almost has a life of its own.

“331/3” according to the blurb is about “a truly tragic moment in musical history – the sudden and heart-breaking passing of Joy Division lead singer, Ian Curtis”. The blurb is necessary. The sound of a record spinning on a turntable at the end of the track when all that can be heard is the imperfections in the vinyl provides the backdrop. The title is the speed of the record. The lyrics, spoken, mention “captured orbit around the spindle,” and mention “whirlpool” and “swansong.” Not one mention of a Joy Division lyric or the band, but you get the idea of sadness, repetition, someone’s life governed by music.

The remaining tracks slow the tempo. “The National Trust Range Of Paints Colour Card” lists drab, neutral colours and repeat two lines, “Poverty’s a shame, it’s a shame, it’s a shame, it’s true” and “Nobody’s to blame, to blame, to blame but you”. Generally, poverty is more complicated than individual action or circumstance. It’s like the last track, “Leaves On The Line”, builds a series of images but doesn’t really do anything with it.

“The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog” starts with an interesting idea: a website that features collections of items under 100g: bottle tops, guitar picks, a set of plastic soldiers arranged to spell the title. But the website is then abandoned as if the owner lost interest or got a better offer. Armitage makes his own list: bank notes, dead leaves, beer mats, fingerprints, one night stands, Yuri Gagarin in zero gravity. “where I stand in your affections.”

When the novelty wears off, it gets predictable. Aside from the last track, “Leaves On The Line”, the voice is the same: ponderous, flat, unchanging. A voice that belongs in bedsits, the pub band, singing of unrequited love and squalor. A voice occasionally overwhelmed by the music, which here is given equal footing to the lyrics. The music is heavily influenced by Sigur Ros, but is sparser, aiming to be a soundtrack rather than the main event. Those already fans of Armitage will love this. Those unfamiliar with Armitage’s work might want to start with the books.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Emma Lee The Significance of a Dress cover image

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