The lyrics of the Tom Tom Club’s 1981 song ‘Wordy Rapinghood’ asks ”What are words worth?” and if you’re listening to most mainstream music, they appear to be worth very little. But in the middle of this arid desert you occasionally get linguistic oases where moon-June/cat-mat couplets and bragging misogyny are swept aside in favour of language. Language that is thought provoking, elevates concepts and revels in the joy of how words can sound as well as the nourishment great lyrics can give you. Luckily, we have a fine tradition of this in the UK of from acts like Loyle Carner, Jamie T, The Streets and Dizzee Rascal to name a few. You can now add The Cool Greenhouse to that list; they eschew sing-song tunes and use prose to hold up a mirror to society to show us tales of the everyday, the weird, wonderful, and wired (totally).
This is a glorious eponymous debut album from the band which is comprised of Tom Greenhouse (vocals, guitar), Kevin Barthelemy (drums), Merlin Nova (keyboards), Thom Mason (bass) and Tom O’Driscoll (guitar). Musically the most obvious comparison is The Fall, with hypnotic riffs rolling around the vocals like the unfolding landscape of a train journey. But the music is not simple decoration for the words, it’s enmeshed at the cellular level. Tom G wraps his words around musical motifs on tracks like ‘Cardboard Man’ ‘Trojan Horse’ and hypnotic repetition means you can’t help mouthing along. Some tracks have discordant elements (‘The Sticks’, ‘Subletters Pt 2’) whereas others favour a laconic rhythm with squishes of keyboard and melodica (‘Gum’, ‘Trojan Horse’). But all eleven tracks bring some outstanding riffs that will bring you back to listen time and again (your tasting notes would be Fall songs like ‘Cruiser’s Creek’ or ‘Hit The North’).
Lyrically, there are far too many concepts, ideas, thoughts, takes-on-life to unpack in this review but you’ll hear wry-references to sexism, gammon classes, relationships, not being able to afford current rents, mundane reality and the worrying subculture of the Incel. You’ll be tantalised by cracking lines like “God only know what they’ve been feeding the ducks”, “I’ve got medium-sized hands”, “Margaret Thatcher, she had very dirty glasses…she couldn’t even see the world” and “…luckily they had all my details wrong, they thought I was an orthodontist from London, when actually I’m an accordion player from Belgium”. And this leads me to my only disappointment about the album; I bought the Dinked vinyl version and, given the production values with liner notes I was sad there wasn’t a lyric sheet. Don’t get me wrong, the words are clearly heard but I would have really enjoyed sitting listening and reading the lyrics as well to unlock yet another level to the already onion-like layers to the album.
But it’s not my words you should be indulging in. Click the link and treat your thirsty ears to a long satiating drink at the Cool Greenhouse oasis.
Review by Paul F Cook