The only album review I’ll ever need
I wrote recently that the only reviews I care about are from music fans…and opting out of all pay-to-maybe-be-played PR and radio shenanigans means that anything that does come in is truly exciting. When you’ve paid thousands of quid just to have your music considered for review, if something actually does come off it doesn’t feel the same. Writers certainly aren’t paid to write about you, but they wouldn’t know you had anything to write about if the PR person didn’t tell them. It’s…complicated.
So, when one of my all-time favourite songwriters – and one of the most passionate music fans I know – asked me to send him the lyrics to “One In A Thousand” so he could write a piece about it, you can perhaps imagine the feverish little dance I did around my home studio.
Huge thanks to Miles Hunt for a lifetime of musical inspiration, over a decade of encouragement and friendship, and for introducing Rat and I in April 2019! This album simply wouldn’t exist without him.
“One In A Thousand“: an album musing by Miles Hunt
Originally posted on Louder Than War
An email exchange between Ned’s Atomic Dustbin guitarist, Rat, and myself, sometime around 2020; [LK: it was April 2019]
Rat: Milo, I’ve got a bunch of tunes I really want to work on with a singer, preferably female, d’you know anyone that might be interested?
Me: Leave it with me, I’ll have a think.
Less than 24 hours later…
Rat: Milo, I found this, she’s brilliant, I’d love to work with someone like this, such a great voice, brilliant lyrics.
Me: Oh that’s my friend Laura Kidd, why don’t you ask her?
Rat: You know her?!
Me: Sure I do, I’ll ask her if she’s up for giving your tracks a listen.
Rat: Fuckin’ ‘ell mate!
And that’s how it began: Rat meet Laura, Laura meet Rat.
There are far fewer satisfying experiences in life than putting people together that are destined to come up with something truly great. I just didn’t know it was gonna be this great!
Laura and I met a few years back when she was performing in a short lived Carina Round line up, I was a guest singer during the show on a song that Carina and I wrote together many years ago, Four To The Floor. After the gig Laura introduced herself to me and The Wonder Stuff’s violinist, Erica Nockalls, and was kind enough to hook us up with her She Makes War record. We were seriously impressed and kept our eyes and ears on her future projects. We’ve never been disappointed.
Rat and I go way back, right back to the beginning of time in fact. Well, our time at least, 1989 when Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and The Wonder Stuff were just making our mark. I’ve always known Rat is a uniquely gifted guitarist, but so often the intricacies of his playing have been lost beneath the twin bass attack of The Ned’s. Not on this album though, among the many attributes of Obey Robots it is Rat’s moment to shine.
The album release has been preceded by a 7” single, Let It Snow. It blew me away on first listen. The main riff is classic Rat – intense, melodic and searing – and Laura underpinned it all with a bass line worthy of The Stranglers’ Jean Jaques Burnell. But the song, oh man, the song… nothing to do with toasting marshmallows around a log fire, instead it’s a howl of frustration for getting through those pesky lockdowns and being able to get on with what creative people need to do. In fact what all of us need to do; be with our loved ones, celebrate life, keep moving forward. All delivered in what becomes Laura’s signature dual octave layering on the album. Rat’s solo makes me wanna smash shit up, it’s a beautiful chaos.
‘Destruction makes us stronger’ is the first line in the chorus of the album opener, Not The Quiet Type, as it happens, and it’s a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. Lyrically, Laura has brought her ‘A Game’ to this album, at points even reminding me of my life long favourite lyricist, Magazine’s Howard Devoto. She centers on the ‘I’, it’s all first person and it’s all believable. She connects, and it’s a strong connection. Switching the second line of the chorus from “We will always get it wrong” to ”I will always do my best” in it’s finale is a beautiful touch.
They ain’t fuckin’ around sonically with this track either, the attack is equaled by the depth. I guess that’s what you end up with when you put together a top line, wah-wah footed, high frequency guitar player with a guttural low-slingin’ bass player such as Laura. All underpinned by a hard as nails drum performance by Max Saidi and a masterful mix by Chris Sheldon.
On One Of These Days Rat proves he’s still got pretty in him, just as he did on Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s Stuck all those years ago, when he cleans up his sound you get a true sense of his sensitivity. And Laura responds with an empathetic review of a past altercation. Oh and fat as fuck bass riff. I particularly like the way the jarring, off beat performance of Max Saidi’s drum part never gives in to straightening out for the obvious final furlong, it keeps up the juxtaposition of Laura’s lyrical debate throughout.
Talking of jarring… I don’t like straight forward and I don’t like the obvious, equally as much as I don’t like the blues. There’s a million plus verses been written around two chords and there’s probably a few million more to come. Out of all the music I have been subjected to in my life I can honestly say I have enjoyed less than 1% of it. But that’s my cross to bear. What I am immediately drawn to on the album’s third track, Elephant, is it’s discomfort with itself – a beat and a rhythm guitar part at odds with each other. And as much as this pleases me to hear, I have a wee bit of experience in trying to find a vocal melody to ride over such polar opposites, to the point of almost driving myself ‘round the bend.
Laura hasn’t suffered so here. Her entry is as unexpected as it is inspiring and she has saved her frustration for the lyric, another empathetic view, this time towards those that aren’t as fortunate as perhaps she feels? It’s Punk Rock, it’s the Punk Rock I understood anyway. It’s the giving of strength, of solidarity, of an olive branch. It’s optimism and it’s delivered with a bouquet of flowers, including the thorns. Her ability to take the melodies where I can never predict is such a rare pleasure for me. And when Rat goes pretty again – in an unnecessary but admittedly generous shift in atmosphere – Laura reacts with a playful bit of vocal trickery. And as it all comes to a close the Ned’s king-sized guitarist piles on layers of emotion to take it home. These two artists we born to create together, I’m constantly hearing one push the other further.
Talking of Punk Rock – and I’m genuinely not trying to do this on purpose, the talking of motif – but, talking of Punk Rock, the opening of track four, Next Summer, could be Killing Joke for feck’s sakes! It settles into something of a more commercial nature though, and no bad thing for it. In my mind’s eye I see a flag waving Glastonbury-tastic calling for it. There’s a synth hook, The Kids like that sort of thing don’t they? And as the chorus lyric states “Optimism can be so nauseating”, that’s The Kids too, right?
On Glitter Turns To Dust Rat comes over all Johnny Marr, switching to a luscious sounding acoustic guitar. And with zero disrespect intended towards Johnny, his work in the 1980s had an unquantifiable influence on all us wanna-be gun slingers of that decade. And the 80s is what this beauty of a song has all over it. Laura’s use of the “last to know” lyric is all too familiar to me, it puts a tear in my eye for the memory of a dear departed friend of immeasurable talent that wrote a song of that very title in the decade I am transported to. But that is the beauty of what songwriters and musicians do, isn’t it? To either connect us to them or reconnect us with our past selves. Either way, I’ll be eternally grateful for what this song does for me.
Side Two of an album always deserves a Single to open it. I’ve adhered to that rule myself a few times. Side One concludes with a change of mood, we flip the fucker over and want a kick up the arse when we drop the needle again, right? Yeah, that’s right. And Porcupine delivers a swift and purposeful boot up the jacksy. I’ve no idea what Laura’s absolute point in this lyric is, but were I a kid adding this record to my youthful record collection I would consider her an otherworldly genius, if only for adding the word Erethizontidae to my prepubescent vocabulary, just like Howard Devoto did with Permafrost before I had any hairs on it. Big Ups to Rat on this one too, a riff like this one woulda made me quit playing with my Dinky Cars and pick up a guitar, no doubt about it.
Old Kindnesses and Super Connected have all my favourite parts of Bauhaus and Smashing Pumpkins without the Bowie-esque devotion or a daft name. They are both what I think of as more traditional Side Two tracks, not fillers but requiring a deeper concentration. The afore mentioned Let It Snow is up next and refocuses the mind to the ease and swagger of this collaboration.
Did I mention yet that Laura can sing her ass off? And whilst I’ve piled on compliments towards Rat’s versatility as a guitar player I don’t think I’ve touched upon their combined ability to bring the emotion. And that’s what the title track of the album, One In A Thousand, does – perfectly placed as the album’s closer. The way Laura pitches the opening vocal line goes straight to the heart, Rat’s chord change for the chorus gives me Chicken Skin, The Fizz… whatever you call it, the fuckin’ hair’s on your arms moment. The moment every songwriter wants you to feel, or at the very least, this songwriter. Laura sings about December 2019, I can’t tell you how much joy that gave me. A date, a hotel room number, a person’s name, a city, a highway number… a detail that means so much to the singer they just had to let you know. It leaves a question in the listener’s mind, “What the fuck happened in December 2019?!” I love it. It draws us in, we just HAVE to know, for chrissakes! But most important of all to me in this song is the line “I’d rather be one in a thousand”, not The One in a thousand, just One. That’ll do Pig. No muscle flexing, no being better than, just inclusivity.
My two mates Laura and Rat have knocked me off my feet, honestly they have. I’m so proud to have been a tiny part of their work together. I want more. And after hearing this record, I think you will too. Gold stars all round.
Get Miles Hunt’s latest solo album “Things Can Change” here (I sing on two tracks, woop!)