What will the neighbours think? Any minute now I’m expecting a knock on the door from the boys in blue “Hello sir, we have reason to believe you’re experimenting with mind altering substances...” I’m not. Well not this time at least. Nope, the sound seeping through the walls, between the cracks and into the ears of anyone within the immediate vicinity comes from Miss Halliwell’s brand new double album...which manages to be both uncompromising and challenging but still somehow often quite accessible in a way that few bands could even begin to pull off.
I had the genuine pleasure of spending a few hours in legendary Bearwood boozer The Bear with Miles himself a week or two ago and he’s every bit as ‘real’ as he comes across in both his music and writing. For a couple of hours we chewed the fat and drank the ale, discussing, well, pretty much everything under the sun really. The one thing that the afternoon left me with is this dude’s passion for what he does. That’s not to diss anyone else in a band, far from it. Anyone who pitches up to entertain an often apathetic public deserves respect. But Miles has that kind of commitment that leads some artists to lop off an ear, self immolate or nail their bollocks to a footpath (seriously, someone did this in Russia recently...saves Putin doing it for them I guess but even so...ouch). Perhaps age has mellowed him ever so slightly, he admitted as much, but then again if you read his latest blog posting (and I heartily recommend that you do) the righteous venom’s still flowing like blood from severed artery. It came out in our conversation too, not bitterness (he ain’t one for sitting around sticking pins in voodoo dolls) but more a determination to keep on keeping on, with or without the acclaim that the band deserves. There’s a part of him that likes it this way, so much easier to be true to yourself when a relatively modest number of people are listening. Quite what an impact landing a number 1 album would have on the band I can’t imagine...but bugger me, wouldn’t it be great to find out?
Given that they recorded their debut album (Die Son! Die!) live at a couple of incendiary shows back in 2009 and then made a movie about the whole thing perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Miss Halliwell’s follow up is an ambitious double. Okay not exactly as the second disc bears Miles’ name alone but still, feel the weight my friends. Reviewing this album was always going to be a challenge. Actually at times it feels more like the album’s reviewing you, especially on disc one. In opening number Gentlears (the sound of Zappa humping Miles E. Smith in an asylum) Captain Miles rallies his troops before launching into a nutzoid rant against pretty much everyone and everything. Bonus points for the Brian Clough referencing lyric by the way. Even more bonus points for the fact that it’s not an idle boast. As Miles himself admits Rulerfueller’s as close to a single as Miss Halliwell is likely to get but don’t expect to hear it as ringtone any time soon...unless the world pulls its head out of its backside for a change “Can’t we find a reason why we need a kick up the arse?” challenges Miles.
See what I mean? Far too few bands ask questions of their listeners these days, arguably at a time in our culture when we all need a kick up the arse more than ever. The album's title track Fresh From The Holy Spring is literally the sound of a man taking a...as opposed to the...piss. Genius. I guess if so many artists can get away with releasing crap Miles and co are entitled to go (number) one better. Other highlights? The whole damn thing frankly but the tub thumping drum and guitar madness of Squeamish Knight deserves an honourable mention as does the discordantly surreal Ponytail Quest. "Honour Miss Halliwell" indeed.
Disc two, entitled Gusting Guests, is a little more of solo project albeit it featuring a number of Miss Halliwell regulars. Stripping back a little (well, okay, quite a lot in places) of the gloss of disc one and replacing it with a more lo fi / experimental feel it’s a dazzlingly varied mix of stuff, from the scuzzy post punk feel of Perfidious Unholy to the electronic Speak and Spell meltdown of The Art Of Shutting Up though to the ambient chill out of Pity About The Ditty...and that’s just the first three tracks. Some of the material’s what you’d call ‘challenging’ and possibly not for those of a nervous disposition, Juggle World in particular may well bring about complete mental collapse in those on the edge, but if you want easy listening my friends then this ain’t the place for you.
Trust me on this one, there’s more creativity, passion and inspired lunacy in 30 seconds of either disc than many bands manage in entire careers. I don’t expect everyone to grasp my love for this band and/or the dude behind them but if your ears are ready for something genuinely different...and how often does that come along these days...then Fresh from the Holy Spring is the answer to your prayers. Amen and Halliwellujah!
The official album launch is this Sunday, 7pm, 24th November at the Sunday Xpress, Adam & Eve, Digbeth...AND IT'S RUDDY FREE! Miss Halliwell will also be playing at the Hare & Hounds on 19th December. Ho Ho Go.