Sound — 9
Joe Gideon and the Shark are a new band consisting of former members of Bikini Atoll, made up of, surprisingly, Joe Gideon on vocals, guitar and bass and his sister Viva (aka The Shark) on drums, backing vocals and keys. And they have, without a doubt, produced one of the best albums of 2009 with their debut. Their sound is raw and eccentric garage-blues with surrealist storytelling lyrics. The title track Harum Scarum, D.O.L. and Johan Was A Painter And An Arsonist are medleys of fuzzy riffs and noisy drums reminiscent, in equal measures, of Seasick Steve and early Led Zeppelin. Civilisation and Hide And Seek ride on rhythms laid out by racuous bar-room piano, and Kathy Ray and the triumphant Anything You Love That Much, You Can See Again show that even a garage-rock two-piece can produce an epic, sweeping ballad when they put their minds to it. The latter is a simple and uplifting elegy that builds up over 8 glorious minutes, and the former tells a semi-whispered story over a muted electric piano and jazzy fingerpicked guitar, but when the full force of the band kicks in with echoing shouts of 'Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Kathy Ray!' buried beneath a wall of drums and distortion, it is clear that some sort of divine intervention is happening.
Lyrics — 10
Joe Gideon's voice is undoubtedly the star of the show here, and Viva's backing vocals, which alternate between soulful and shrieky, complement him perfectly. With a gravelly drawl that sounds like an Cockney Nick Cave it's the perfect vocal timbre for delivering his lyrics, which mainly paint surrealist pictures of modern life. The album's opening line "They said, Son, you'd better leave, effective immediately" sets the tone for an album which paints even the most mundane aspects of modern life in vivid detail. Lyrically, Civilisation is a highlight, detailing the journey of a boy who, after 'Daddy told me that the world was flat, I was happy in my sweet pancake world/But a seed of doubt got a into me, and the seed grew into a tree', decides to leave his home and his old-fashioned father to 'go on a learning, to learn the ways of man'. He 'Acquainted myself with the Greeks, spent some time in Rome, stayed in a monastery until the monks told me to go home', before becoming a 'painter, musician, fishmonger, politician/Wrote a novel that was a phenomenal success, spent all my earnings on crystal meth' and finally 'Rode a bicycle to Clapham where I roamed the early hours, picked up a queen who showed me his crown jewels. Made myself mysterious with a haircut and a hat, worked the 9-5 at Debenhams, rented a flat'. It's a fantastic and innovative song and the chorus will be stuck in your head for weeks. Elsewhere Gideon spins yarns of chance encounters with an ageing soul singer in Kathy Ray, psychotic painters in Johan Was A Painter And An Arsonist and childhood rivalries in Hide And Seek ('Even though it was his own party, we declared that the rules clearly stated that he was ineligible for the game'). In an ideal world he should be recognised as one of the finest lyricists on the new music scene.
Overall Impression — 9
Everyone knows that, to an extent, back in the 60s and 70s the British re-introduced the blues back to the Americans, and since these days your average American seems to think that either Nickelback or Flo Rida are the peak of musical perfection, it's about time we did it again. And, although it will probably be ignored by the mainstream, this should be the album to do it. It's creative, varied, a manageable length (thankfully the trend for 70-minute albums seems to be starting to die out at last) and defiantly British. And for those reasons it really is worth a listen.