Interrobang formed in 2012. They’ve been playing live and now their album has arrived… and it’s awesome! Like a fiercely intelligent offspring of Gang of Four and Blur it combines off-kilter danceability with lyrics so intelligent they would probably get into Mensa!
The concept album has been much maligned post punk but here it is used to good effect as Dunstan Bruce uses the space an album affords to explore the experience of being a fifty something anarchist. How do you express that, what does dissent look like when you’re middle aged? How do you cope with the increasing disconnect between a body on the wain and a mind that still hopes, dreams and rages? It’s a protest album fighting on two fronts- against living in a militarised, neoliberal capitalist society of increasing poverty, homelessness and inequality but also protest against the frustration of growing old and being forced to reflect on your own mortality.
But don’t for one minute think that Interrobang are musically or lyrically the maudlings of ageing punks, if you are looking for nostalgia or a heritage act then time to move on, there is nothing for you here. This is bright eyed self reflection, strangely optimistic, amused. Think Stuart Lee’s self deprecating humour and post-modern awareness, his willingness to deconstruct his own life and performance (and performance of life) and then take that and set it to the music of Stephen Griffin (guitar) and Harry Hamer (drums) that has an identifiable continuity of sound (as you would expect from a concept album) but undulates, spits and snarls, changes shape and texture while always making you wonder what it would sound like live and what sort of moves it could inspire were you brave (drunk?) enough to dance.
The album opens with a scene setter (remember this is a concept album, for those unfamiliar with this think ‘theatre’). ‘Here and Now’ hangs on the edge musically, a clock ticking in the background, before Dunstan deconstructs his own song writing-post-modern as you like-“ When I started writing this I had no idea where I was going…nothing specific to say…in retrospect it looks like I always had a plan with a start, a middle and an end. A random walk that ended up taking me somewhere I wanted to be, and that’s here, (now), I’m back in the frame, I’ve still got something I want to say, I don’t want to fade away…” The clock is still ticking as the song ends.
‘Asking for a Friend’ is where the album really gets into its stride, intense and moody, strangely it reminds me musically of a spaghetti western(!)”…I’ve been privately browsing middle aged concerns, and I’ve been googling the 50 something blues…I’ve been denying existential truths and I’ve been ignoring hashtag cancerous news…but, as the singer is quick to point out, he is “Asking for a friend, I’m just asking for a friend”
“Are you ready people?…I don’t care about my figure but I love to sing about something…I never wanted compromises, I don’t care about rebel stances, I don’t talk about grandstanders, I don’t think about lack of substance, I don’t need that ersatz rebellion…I still dream of…revolution!”
Next track up ‘Mad as Hell’ has that sound that something is brewing ominously, like the atmosphere just before a storm breaks, and then it does…”I’m sick to death of being told to keep calm, no danger of that happening any time soon, I’m angry, still angry after all these years, I’ll never calm down, never ever. I really don’t care if sincerity’s not cool, now is the time to stop playing the fool…have you seen the film ‘Network’ from ‘76, when Howard Beale delivers that passionate speech…’I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take this anymore’“
‘Based on a True Story’ and ‘Do You Remember’ deal with death (one’s own and that of a parent), memory and self constructed narratives. ‘Billingham’ explores the troubled relationships (some of us have) to hometowns in the form of a ‘love’ song to Dunstan’s hometown which starts “This is a love song to Billingham. God, I hate you, I hate you! You shaped me and (chipped me), you beat and bent me, you jumped me on corners. You told me sweet little lies…We’ll never see eye to eye, Oh Billingham…You don’t even know where you are, do you? You don’t even know who you are…no matter how hard I still try, we’re not so different you and I”
After the excellent ‘Breathe’ “I’m in a car wash and frankly I’m terrified…what’s gonna happen when I hit 60, will I still be hungry, will I still be angry, and will I still have the energy?” the album concludes with ‘Am I Invisible Yet?’ “More and more I’m talking about my generation, getting myself into a lather…old enough to be your father…Am I invisible yet?…This is someone who was someone once…Am I invisible yet?…I’m going, I’m going…I’m gone!”
Look you get the picture, this album is a thing of rare magnificence; intelligent, self reflective, humourous, honest, angry. An ageing group of men who refuse to accept what is, who still dream of, and hope for, what could be. Call it Utopian if you like. Interrobang are part of the original punk generation, the generation who believed things could be changed for the better and still believe that despite all the disappointments along the way. ”A grumpy curmudgeon in a state of high dudgeon’ Dunstan Bruce describes himself as, but we know he isn’t, he is someone who has frustrated hope, who still cares. And ‘Music of the Gross’ reflects that punk influence with half heard echoes of ‘New Rose’ at times. The distorted vocals come in “…sonic fools of the bourgeois world…crucified on the cross of mass culture…This is the Music Of The Gross, this is our cri de couer”
Lean and finely honed this is the sound of ageing dissidents who judging by this album are not going away any time soon, still angry and articulate they have plenty to say and have released an album of remarkable insight and incisiveness. Go out of your way to hear it.
Schnews used to have a strapline “If you’re not pissed off-you’re not paying attention”.
Interrobang may have entered their fifties but they have been paying close attention and they’re still very pissed off indeed.