Spin Cycle/Best of 2020
There are few songsmiths around who can actually top an in-form Martin Gordon when it comes to constructing infuriating earworms, and OMG is, once again, loaded with the creatures.
Dave Thompson/Spin Cycle
We Are Cult/2020
When asked about their first band, most musicians will remember garage rehearsals and demo tapes. Martin Gordon’s first band was Sparks. Answering a Melody Maker ad for a bass player in 1973, he recorded the seminal album Kimono My House with them (he has boldly described it as “the only Sparks record worth listening to”). Gordon found spaces in the extravagant compositions for his crucial, melodious basslines before finding himself kicked out for reading a newspaper in a rehearsal. He then formed the short-lived glam outfit Jet, fronted by former John’s Children vocalist Andy Ellison. Their sole album from 1975 is excellent – simultaneously echoing Sparks and anticipating punk. After Jet split, Gordon and Ellison formed Radio Stars, a rawer proposition who found themselves associated with the punk and new wave scene. Since 2003, Gordon has released nine solo albums of bizarrely-themed singalongs, snarling satire and the occasional Gilbert & Sullivan cover.
Martin Gordon’s childhood was mostly devoid of popular media. His parents didn’t own a television as they didn’t believe in it. His radio diet consisted exclusively of the Light Programme, the BBC radio station with fun carefully allotted and youth culture barred. He was first exposed to pop music when he heard a gang of kids singing a Beach Boys song in Frinton-on-Sea. He had to sneak a transistor radio under his bedcovers to get a taste of what he’d been missing out on. Perhaps Gordon is still making up for lost time: On OMG, his ninth album, he keeps an attentive eye on the digital furniture of the present day. Google, YouTube and Instagram are all name-checked. One track is humorously suffixed “(Weird Flex But OK Mix)”. Beneath all of this noise is a hum as old as the hills – human foolishness. The targets on Will of the People are obvious from the title alone, and the lyrics are suitably serrated; “It’s the will of the people / so sound the joyous horns/ it’s the will of the people / and they’re riding unicorns”. In Coming Over, Gordon taunts dishonest internet influencers and their materialistic lifestyles over a riff similar to that of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, another song that touches on consumerism in the modern world.
Recorded on a boat moored in Berlin prior to the global pandemic, OMG still feels perfectly of the moment. “Bring your mobiles and devices / we can livestream any crisis” Gordon sings on Google World, while I Know It All could’ve been written about the rise of anti-maskers. Indeed, Gordon recently released a new track titled COVIDiots (Make the World Go Flat). OMG is an altogether more pessimistic work than Martin Gordon’s previous albums. Gone are the infectious weirdo singalongs of previous albums such as Hit Him on The Head (With a Hammer) from 2003’s The Baboon in the Basement; OMG hinges on indiscreet, world-weary songs about Donald Trump and Brexit propaganda. Gordon is angry about the way-out West we live in and eager to harness this passion. This pessimist is still full of piss and vinegar.
However, the lyrics on OMG are not always agreeable, as on the title track which punches down with a tired joke about gender (“Make it go away / America is great and the world is flat / my dog identifies as a cat”). More original is Drone, a love song from the perspective of a UAV. “I wanna hover round your intimate spaces” croons Gordon over a menacing, proggy backing. Move over Every Breath You Take. The unsettling Man Overboard brings Gordon’s excellent bass playing to the fore. It is the album’s high point, utilising a wonky arrangement. Marie Takahashi’s senseless violin part gives it the flavour of Cockney Rebel.
Another highlight is Wild Old Men – a real groover reminiscent of Radio Stars with lyrics about boozed-up pensioners and their tall tales (“The spirit’s willing but the flesh now is not able / The past has now been transformed into fable”). It brings to mind every Wetherspoons you’ve ever stepped your sticky shoes out of. The kazoo-laden Flat-Footed Frank sounds like the knees-up described in Wild Old Men before it opens up into a wide-eyed outro of layered vocals and a music box melody. Martin Gordon is at his best in these playful moments. He shows his teeth over these eleven songs; you’ll have to decide if you prefer him when he’s grinning or when he’s grimacing.
Huw Thomas/We Are Cult
Voix de Garage Grenoble/2020
9th solo album for this English bass player/composer/singer, now exiled in Germany. The legacy of the ex-Sparks, Jet, Radio Stars is always at its best! I’ve been keeping you informed of my obsession with his music for quite a while. I even think that the man produced a masterpiece by reworking the music and the themes of Gilbert and Sullivan, an album that is one of the records I have listened to the most in the last 10 years (along with the 1st Kyle Craft)!!!
And so this new album always sets the bar as high, with these incredible songs that settle inside you. Because, like a Ray Davies, Martin Gordon has the art of composing songs that immediately seem to be part of your cultural heritage! More and more direct and less ironic than in the past in his texts (Brexit, Trump – there is no shortage of subjects to be angry for those who believe in human goodness …), music by Martin Gordon is always a beautiful goldsmith who aims to create POPular songs! And once again he gets it PERFECTLY! As tense as it should be, as melodious as necessary, this bold collection of 11 songs constitutes a really very tasty album, which punches you regularly in the back of your brain to remind you to return it very regularly to your turntable! It’s been over 3 months since I received it on sale and I still can’t get enough of it!
Bertrand Tappaz/ Voix de Garage
Record Collector Japan/2020
Martin Gordon is the bass player from Sparks, Jet, and Radio Stars. He started to release his solo albums from 2003 and has already released almost 10 solo albums. He is also a songwriter and wrote almost all the songs of this album. The album begins with a rock’ n’roll number (‘Will of the People’) and you can enjoy so many kind of tunes which include twisted pop songs which might be suitable for string arrangements. The titles “Google World” and “Drone” also attract attention. The only non-original is Bach’s “Prelude In C”. The songs are performed by the simple line-up of guitar, bass, drums, plus keyboards, viola, clarinet and e-bow. The final track is a different mix version of the opening track. Gordon plays efficiently characteristic bass lines on the main songs of this album, but on this approximately 7-minute version, we can listen to his bass playing which goes more out of control. I would like to see him with his band together on the stage.
Kiyohiro Shiroya/ translation Kosuke Sakurai
Excluding comps, live, demos and detritus, it’s album the ninth-time (or thereabouts) for the redoubtable Mr G, and once again it’s a collection of inimitably twisted pop songs, zeroing in on the kind of things that worry some folk, thrill others and pass completely unnoticed by many until Gordon happens to shine a light on them.
Who else, after all, would write a love song from the perspective of a drone (“I wanna hover around your intimate spaces”)? Or revisit 10cc’s “Old Wild Men” lament for the ageing rock stars of the future, once that future has arrived… “I’ll stay at home and read a book, and try to classify the drugs I took.”
There is a political bent to a lot of the songs, Gordon railing against a reasonably predictable array of modern monsters. But even if you disagree with his sentiments, it’s hard to kick the tunes out of your head; Spin Cycle has said it before, but there are few songsmiths around who can actually top an in-form Martin Gordon when it comes to constructing infuriating earworms, and OMG is, once again, loaded with the creatures.
Lyrically, it is certainly his most inchoate album, but even when you can tell he’s genuinely annoyed about something, he can’t help wrapping it up like a number one hit, and you can’t help thinking, “I wish Abba had covered this”, or something like that.
If you do own past Gordon solo prolusions, of course, you know all this already. And if you don’t, you should. Either way, OMG is one more mighty achievement from a man who’s now piled up so many that we impatiently await his first lousy record. Will he dare pick up the challenge?
Dave Thompson/ Goldmine
OMG it’s Martin Gordon. A new album!
Martin Gordon started out in the 1970s with the brothers Ron Mael and Russell Mael in Sparks. Martin played with Sparks on the album Kimono My House, which featured his trademark Rickenbacker 4001 bass. “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” and “Amateur Hour” were UK hits from that album. “This Town…” made No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart. He then formed Jet and then Radio Stars, both bands featured singer, and acrobat!, Andy Ellison. The Radio Stars charted with Nervous Wreck.
I was first introduced into the musical world of Martin Gordon back in 1977. I was walking down The Mound in Edinburgh and I had nipped into one of my favourite record stores. Rummaging through the latest 7″ release box a sleeve design jumped out at me – the logo was not that different from the old Radio Times logo, a photo of a band, a woman dressed in stockings and suspenders, a layer of grubby fingerprints and a song called Dirty Pictures! What’s not to like! I paid the 70p and a love for the Radio Stars started that day and continues now.
Loved that band, which I saw live twice. All was quiet but then rumours of a Radio Stars one off reunion gig started to surface. Sadly it didn’t happen. I have covered the release of one of Martins previous solo albums, which I play often, The ‘Gilbert Gordon & Sullivan’.
Martin fired across the sampler tracks. I wasn’t expecting the pure joy these tracks sparked off. I hope Martin doesn’t mind the comparison here to the Radio Stars. The opening track is the rockin’ Will Of The People – be warned this will hook you straight off the Rickenbacker bass lines. This is so good I thought I may have missed a Radio Stars album somehow. The wicked hooks, MG’s humour and biting satire buried in the lyrics and that chorus. Is it really necessary? Yes. This is really sharp lyrically and MG busies himself making points and observations of what is happening politically and socially. It is fully supported with a finely tuned cast of backing vocalists and chanting crowd sounds.
Question: Any plans to visit the UK?
Answer Martin Gordon: I do make the occasional appearance in various Berlin venues, which keeps the costs down as I can cycle home at the end of the night. I would like to scale up this approach, but I think 1200 kilometres would be pushing it a bit. But let’s see.
Martin Gordon (centre), with Ralf Leeman (left) and Romain Vicente (right).
Track 2 is Coming Over, again that warm feeling of nostalgia and familiarity washes over you as Martin and band deliver yet another quality slice of sharp lyrics backed again with the great chant along chorus. The lyrics are bang on on point, this is a damn fine track and I can see a crowd bouncing along to this track, if we were ever lucky enough to see it performed live. Martin lives in Germany now and so a visit to the UK may not see him coming over for a while.
Question: What are you up to to pass the time, or what book are you reading as the world hunkers down?
Answer Martin Gordon: Actually I’m revisiting some old music theory texbooks – the OUP ‘Harmony and Counterpoint’, and Walter Piston’s ‘Orchestration’, and am considering forming a one-man bass orchestra. I would have to audition myself, but I think I stand a pretty good chance of getting the gig. My newly-acquired looper might help out here.
And just as you settle back, Martin as always tweaks your senses. Is it ok to call it a “cover”? Prelude in C, Bach no less! Just listen to the wicked bass Martin puts into this. Would Bach like it? Its totally packed with some fine electric guitar playing magic, percussion items, and a strong drum pattern. You know, I think he might well of liked it. Martin unpicks the threads of this and then redresses it with style and attention to detail. It’s simply stunning to hear.
Will Of The People: “A single release. This is the family-unfriendly version, which may contain the word ‘Rees-Mogg’ and which will definitely frighten miners.”
Wild Old Men is up next – so we move from Bach to a maracas shake and a fistful of guitar riffs sparking up. Tea and cakes served by Aunty Mabel. This is another sharp track as we are invited to reminisce “over the drugs we took”. A lovely guitar and piano combo and all the while that bass bursts through your speakers accompanying Martins vocal style. If you cant remember what pop songs used to sound like, then this album may help. A pub style honky tonk piano opens and you are pulled in for what could almost be an east end sing song for Flat Foot Frank. A song about a flat pack merchant/builder and flat pack virgins. I mean, who else could do this? To end the song we are treated to ducks – its just quackers!
He is outspoken, always refreshingly honest, a humour that is sharp as a razor blade, but he comes across as utterly charming with an ever roving eye for collating those details. That detail is dropped into the lyrics. Google World is up next and slows down the pace set by those Wild Old Men. Consumerism is the target here. He says what he thinks and voices those views and opinions, this one is backed by a bass clarinet. The melodies and musicianship on this track will want leave you wanting more when it ends.
Does God Believe In Me? Now there is a question. Now there is a song title! Howling guitars fire us into this and again the chorus to this will be rattling around in your head days after you hear it. Martin can put down a tune that other bands can only dream of. Martin infuses his own special brand of pop punk/punk pop into this album and it is as finely honed as ever. Turn up the music box for the title track OMG and I swear your ornaments will move to the rattling bass opening. The song again is topped with an ear worm of a chorus. Just listen to the guitar riffs tucked into this, that, every so often break out from a speaker and lick you in the face. Let Drone take you away as Martin wants to invade your private spaces. I Know It All took me fondly back in time to what has to be one of the finest tunes put on vinyl with There Are No Russians In Russia. Class.
Question: You have released some great music Martin, and I am going to try and pin you down here, what are your proudest achievements in recent times?
Answer MG: That must be playing bass on a Frank Zappa tune with the Ensemble Modern in The Gambia, topped off by being asked to conduct them through another piece of theirs which we had worked up in Dakar the month before. We, namely the Liberation Orchestra plus me on bass, had rehearsed our parts, so all we had to do was slot the EM in on top. And we did! All most unlikely and highly satisfying. It transpired that Dietmar Wiesner (the composer of the second piece) had participated in the Zappa/Ensemble Modern recordings from the 90s: we sat in Banjul until late at night over warm beers and I insisted he tell me his stories of the great man.
OMG is overflowing at times with joyous sing-along moments and a load of air guitar/air bass opportunities. OMG is an excellent auditory treat, and it just works in different ways as the album progresses. The opening tracks hit a great early stride. It is all expertly crafted, and the sound is technically able. Some wisecracking lyrics and observations and tunes – put it all together and it nails that hidden sweet spot.
All in all this really is a pleasant, pleasurable, indie, classic, punky, rocky slice. I think I covered all the genres this album covers. And if you still wish for a blast of the Radio Stars era, then OMG is spot on. But then you get so much more with this album. Martin always has something to say and it is always worth listening as it can be fun but he usually tucks a serious side in there. It is a collection of fine tunes.
Question:The Mael brothers?
Answer MG: Good heavens, are they still going? Well done them! That must give hope to all septuagenarians. At least, I imagine it would.