Thursday, 7 July 2022

Thee Moot "Mood Swings and Roundabouts" - A track-by-track guide to an album packed full of harmony, rhapsody and melody

Every now and then an album appears out of the blue that hits you right between the eyes. I have to say that the third LP from Thee Moot "Mood Swings And Roundabouts" is one of those perfect albums where all the vital factors are ticked off. From the no-filler sequencing and dynamics of the 12 songs in 40 minutes track-listing to Steven Lambo's excellent cover art to the stunning production by the band and Ed Deegan at Gizzard studios. All four band members are at the top of their game, the lyrics and songwriting, the superb playing, it's all there. In fact, what Thee Moot have on their hands is a timeless masterpiece that transcends genres and musical eras effortlessly. It touches on all your favourite records without once sounding cliched or obvious. The band were formed out of the ashes of one of the best covers bands around, The Transients. Bassist Mark Leech, Drummer Philip 'Freezer' Pinch and Guitarist Dave 'DC' Clark recruited Mark's former bandmate in 80's Psych-Popsters The Onlookers, Singer and Songwriter Nick Stone to concentrate on original material and boy, did they make a good choice. The first thing I remember after seeing Thee Moot play live was that I could remember every one of the songs they played straight after the show, how many bands do you see where you can't even remember one bloody tune? The choruses were stuck in my head for days after. In fact, it was almost as though I'd seen The Transients play a set of my favourite songs as tracks like "Backs Me Down", "Don't Push Me" and "Tabloid View of The World" were instantly as familiar. This is testament to the band's songwriting skills and the fact that their lean, stripped back sound and DC's icy, memorable riffs allow the melodies to bury themselves into your eardrums. 

Thee Moot are not an easy band to categorise and to ditch any notion of cover versions and get out there armed with a set of all original material, skirting genres and musical rules and regulations, is a brave move. If you are looking for reference points, I guess you could start with The Onlookers who ploughed a similar furrow back in the 80's with their tuneful Psych. They also remind me on occasion of the much-missed Playn Jayn with their immediately memorable tunes and Dave Clark brings a touch of Post-Punk and Lower East Side NYC 70's Punk with his inventive riffing. Of course, clues can also be found in the eclectic set-lists of The Transients as they played songs by a diverse range of Bands and Artists from Billy Childish to The Gun Club, from Television to The Saints to The Small Faces. From The Nerves and The Modern Lovers to The Flys - always avoiding the obvious. But I reckon Thee Moot are mostly deeply rooted in the catchy British Mod-Psych-Pop of The Afex "She's Got The Time", Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, Fire's "Father's Name Is Dad", The Creation, The Kinks "Village Green Preservation Society" and The Sorrows "Take a Heart". Two more wonderful covers The Transients played that could have paved the way for Thee Moot were Wimple Winch's "Save My Soul" and Rupert's People "Dream on My Mind", hopefully this might narrow things down a bit!

So, as I have had the album on repeat for days now, let's take a track-by-track look at "Mood Swings And Roundabouts". Firstly, according to the sleeve notes the brilliant title is "a celebration of the joys of lockdown and of the rollercoaster of life pre and post pandemic". It's Nick's essentially personal reflections that will, however strike a chord with all of us who endured the past two and half years of COVID-related hell. Thee Moot have captured the very essence of all the ups and downs, highs and lows, anxieties, and the occasional bright points, of the world during lockdown. The opening track "Alone By Myself" sets the scene perfectly with it's crunching guitar intro that leads into an insanely catchy song with some great drumming by Freezer Pinch. It faces up to the insecurities of going out and mixing socially again after periods of isolation "I build a little bunker at the foot of my bed, covers over my head" and "forgive me, I get the jitters when I socialise". The follow up "Armageddon", despite the uptempo, catchy nature of the music itself, seems to despair at what we are doing to our planet as the opening line attests "Beam me up Scotty, I've had enough". The song buzzes about cheerfully despite Nick's concerns that "the future is ominous, maybe space is a better place for the human race?" But true to the album's title, the mood swings with "Live To Fight Another Day" which reminds me of Blur around the time of their "Modern Life Is Rubbish" album. That was when they seemed to discover the joys of Julian Cope and they had songs like "Pressure on Julian" and "Coping", hmmm do I detect a slight nod to their influence in those two titles I wonder? Maybe the Blur reference isn't so strange as DC's playing sometimes reminds me of Graham Coxon, who I've always thought was an underrated guitarist, and Nick seems to channel his inner Anthony Newley here. It's a great song with some effective stabbing keyboards adding a nice touch. Oh, see if you can spot the accidental sound effect.

"What You Got To Shout About?" is a rollicking call to arms, a two-minute-two-fingers up to all those bullies of the meek and mild mannered and I like the line "Button it and hear me out, shut your mouth!" as the song slams shut. The melancholy "Gentle Devil" hints at the mental health issues faced by many people during the pandemic, "I'm gentle but I live with the Devil" Nick sings, "Misanthropic and bad mannered, I'm on the slip and slide inside myself". These intense lyrics are all complemented by some quite beautiful guitar work that adds a real gravitas to the song. "Looking Down Upon Myself" is another reflective track which has hints of Bowie and starts off with a sublime ringing guitar riff by DC and bubbling bass-lines from Mark. Two unashamedly upbeat and nostalgic songs follow, firstly "Penelope Coincidentally" which rattles along at a fair pace underpinned by some excellent bass. "No. 73 was a thing on TV back in the 80's" Nick reminisces, indeed it was and The Onlookers made an appearance on this rather naff Saturday morning kids TV show, it's there on YouTube if you don't believe me. To their credit, they do manage to keep their cool and deliver great versions of "You & I" and "Chieftain" despite Dennis Waterman, Hazel O'Connor and dancing children cavorting around them. If that wasn't bad enough, at one point bassist Mark Leech is submerged in a bath of yellow custard. Who says that we didn't have entertainment back in the day?! "Go! Harmony, rhapsody, melody" they sing, and quite right too! In fact, I think that would make a perfect slogan for a Moot T-shirt. Then next up is "Go Pele Go" which has a nice Stonesy swagger and Nick sharing his boyhood memories of the Mexico '70 World Cup, of dazzling colour TV and the equally dazzling gold and green of Brazil. There's a jealous comparison with the jumpers-for-goalposts, mud-soaked footie on a cold and wet day in In-ger-land while in Brazil they played on exotic sun-kissed beaches. As someone of a certain age, I can still remember the pain of heading one of those rain-soaked laced-up leather cannonballs, so this song really hit home with me! 

What follows is a four song sequence that really elevates "Mood Swings and Roundabouts" to another level. I always thought that you can tell a great album when it builds to a crescendo with a final run of killer songs rather than meander to a disappointing end. So the next track "Blisters" really throws off the shackles with a huge in-your-face guitar riff intro from DC. In their early recordings I sometimes felt that Thee Moot were holding back a bit, sometimes a bit restrained even and it wasn't until the fuzzed up and aptly titled "Let Your Hair Down" on their last album "Peel It To Reveal It" where they really started to kick-off. But there's certainly no holding back with "Blisters" as it cranks up the energy levels into overdrive, topped off with an insanely catchy chorus. The lyrics seem to tackle this confidence issue with self-deprecating humour, "So what if we haven't got the faces to mention, not so photogenic and we're hard to remember" ponders Nick, but enough is enough, now they're going for it. They want us to know they mean it and feel it and they are now going to fight for attention. Any struggling band without major backing or record label support will be able to empathise with "Blisters" as Nick nails those all too familiar hardships and doubts that must play on many musician's minds at one point or another with a stinging line, "Why play anyway when nobody hears ya?" It's a harsh reality. But this is followed by the positive rallying cry "Someone's gotta bang a drum for live music mister, we hit so hard we're covered in blisters". Believe me, you'll find yourself cheering at this point! "Marigold" is a sublime piece of British Psychedelia that suddenly hits you with a crunching chord change and chorus and there's some nice underlying organ adding texture. Dave Clark's guitar work again shines and Nick's voice is on top form, this is up there as one of Thee Moot's greatest recorded moments. 

But then again, next up is "Tonic For The Soul" which may well be the highpoint of the album for me. Just when you think you're at the chorus another killer section slaps you around the head and the organ along with the "Let's Spend The Night Together" style backing vocals pile on the melodic overload. The ringing guitar riff highlights the uplifting message that music cures, puts a "sparkle in my eyes, reactivates my mind". It's an absolute belter of a song that's crying out to be released on 7" vinyl, it would make a classic single. In the superb closing track "Dressing Gown" Nick sings "Yeah, far from the madding crowd, I am still wearing my dressing gown" brilliantly capturing those initially positive effects of the lockdown. The blue skies of that amazing weather when we thought we'd have a nice time off work for a bit and it would all be over in a month or so. Ah, I remember those days clearly, the long walks, the clean air and for me, living under a major flight path and near a motorway I certainly felt the difference profoundly. No cars or planes, the carbon omissions dropped and the only noise pollution was that of the birds singing. You could appreciate nature as Spring bloomed all around. Yeah right, little did we know of the devastating couple of years ahead. "Dressing Gown" tackles the issue of climate change so well and Nick hopes that "Earth will rebuild itself if we redeem ourselves". It's true, that first couple of weeks of Lockdown were like a window into an alternative reality of what life could be like if only we respected the environment so much more. Musically, "Dressing Gown" is a fantastic tour-de-force and a perfect way to close the album as it slowly builds to a crescendo with some stunning Richard Lloyd/Tom Verlaine guitar work from DC. Not to be outdone, Mark suddenly goes all JJ Burnel on us and his bass wigs out as the multi-layered guitars wash over the ending of a quite brilliant record. If former Shack and Pale Fountains frontman Mick Head hadn't just released his own masterpiece "Dear Scott" with the Red Elastic Band, then "Mood Swings And Roundabouts" would be dead cert for album of the year already and we're only just into July. Harmony, Rhapsody, Melody!

Thee Moot will be playing at the High Tide Festival in Twickenham on Sunday July 17th (organised by the excellent Eel Pie Records store) and then at the Acoustic Couch in Bracknell on Thursday July 21st. The album will be getting an exclusive play on Alan May's "Glory Boy" Radio Show on Sunday July 10th too. For more information on Thee Moot and how to order "Mood Swings And Roundabouts" please check out their official Facebook page here. All live photos copyright Retro Man Blog.

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