As I sit down at my desk to type this, the elephant stares at me with big, sad eyes. After five tense minutes, I snap.
The elephant just stares. I hold its gaze for as long as I can, but it’s no good. I try begging, but no. The elephant will not be appeased.
It sighs a gentle sigh and I realise I’m defeated.
“FINE.” I hiss. “I’ll admit it.”
“Y’know Babybird’s 90s mega hit ‘You’re Gorgeous’? The one you can’t avoid mentioning when writing about Babybird? I can’t *stand* it.”
The elephant nods and replies, quite correctly:
“The ‘F Word’ was a banger though.”
Whilst as far as the mainstream is concerned Babybird are forever that one hit in the 90s, Stephen Jones has been there in the background, quietly recording pretty much every note he’s ever played. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve fallen out of touch with his material. There’s so MUCH of it. Where does one start? What’s the best route in? Photosynthesis, his latest, follows just a couple of months after a compilation of recordings from the last few years. In the time it’s taken me to write this review, he’s probably banged out another three albums. It’s admirable as hell, but makes working out where to dip ones toe awfully difficult.
Photosynthesis is a surprising album: opener ‘Too Late’ starts off low-key and minimalist, delayed pianos tinkling around Jones’ vocals while electronics and percussion gently build and add momentum. It rises and rises moodily, then drops again before BOOM, there’s an explosion of almost overwhelming distorted, filtered drums before another drop to almost silence. As it rises once again to another crescendo, you’re fully suckered in. It’s a song that really gets under your skin, claustrophobic but widescreen, atmospheric but focussed. Finally the distorted drums give way to silence, and you FEEL the absence of the song. It’s tremendous. As opening tracks go, it’s easily one of the best of the year. How do you follow that?
“Bluesy chords over an electro drumbeat” comes the unexpected answer. It shouldn’t make sense, but it does. When that gives way to percussive hip-hop synths, descending fuzz bass and cacophonic drums, you realise it’s a trick the album will continue to play over the course of its 10 tracks, swerving left when you think it’s going right, always restless, moving on to the next thing. It can be hard to be this eclectic and still produce a cohesive album, but Jones makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world. It probably helps that there are a stack of genuinely brilliant songs on this album. By the time it’s done, any fear over where to go next into his back catalogue is gone. I’m just going to dive in randomly and see what happens.
Based on the fact it’s 2019, you may, like me, initially dismiss the idea of a new Babybird album on the basis of one song from over twenty years ago. Don’t do that. Do this.
Review by Steve Horry