Okay in my review of their single “Horse With No Face” I might have gone overboard declaring a national Scaramanga Six day but hey, in my defence I have to say they made me do it… or should I say that’s the effect their music has on me, and surely they’ve been around long enough to be declared a national treasure, This is their 10th album, not counting a bunch of compilations and the wonderful solo albums put out recently by Paul Morricone, and it sees the band gleefully upping the immediacy and going for a British bulldog style charge of the light brigade, all guns blazing in a race for god knows where, on a horse with no face no doubt.
Previous incarnations of the Scaramanga Six have seen them flirting with prog, alternative metal, weird Victorian music hall… I mean, you name it, the Scara’s have probably done it. Along the way they’ve worked with legends like Tim Smith and Steve Albini and produced a body of work that is truly mind numbing in scope and density. I could write a book on what they’ve achieved so far. Brief history here though. The Morricone brothers Paul (vocals and guitar) and Steven (Keys, bass and vocals), initially from the West country, where they played in various outfits, including the marvellously named Rogers Trout Farm (along with the enigmatic guitarist Julia Arnez), decamped up North where they formed The Scaramanga Six (initially just Scaramanga) in 1995, and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing from members finally settled and released their first proper album The Lion, The Bitch & Her Wardrobe in 1999 on their own label after successful gigs in the Leeds area. The album displayed their now familiar influences from the crooning Scott Walker vibes of Paul’s voice to their tendency towards the epic… and creepy. Their fiercely independent stance continued throughout, as they formed their own label Wrath, while Paul concentrated on video production. More albums followed and people came and went, and so here we are at 2021 and the band are set to release their 10th studio album. Is that brief enough?!
The band have always had a penchant for The Fall. Even at their most pompous they are never far away from their post punk roots, and it seems the recent re-issue of the classic Hex Enduction Hour may have reawakened their love, as riffs are lifted respectfully and layered into the mix. The band have always shown a passion and respect for the music that moulded them, from Scott 4 to Magazine’s theatricality to Cardiacs intensity, and have often thrown these influences into the heady mix.
From the opening moments of the first track “Big Ideas” I hear the strains of “Hard Life In The Country” from Room To Live bursting through the huge monolithic wall of sound that shakes the speakers, threatening to burst into the room, like Bjork’s “Army Of Me” played by Black Sabbath. There’s an intentional atonality about Paul’s vocals as he spits and snarls his way through “An Error Occurred” like a really pissed off Hugh Cornwell. It’s almost as if he got all his usual Scott Walker style crooning out of his system on his recent solo albums and he’s really going for it on this one. There’s a definite harder edge on songs like “Decade With No Name”, “Horse With No Face” and “Dog Form” which feature plenty of the pounding floor tom familiar from a hundred punk songs from the Damned to the Sex Pistols, the latter’s guitar riff referencing The Fall’s “I Feel Voxish”, or is that an actual sample?
“Boy” is a nightmare lullaby, “Cults” would sit very comfortably on an early XTC album, with Sha Na Na and Josh Homme making a guest appearance on vocals – now there’s a mash up. The groove laid down on “Death Mask Of The Unknown Lady Of The Seine” is immense and fair bowls along before the romantic Roxy Music piano stridently paves the way for a quite glorious song that is so uniquely Scaramanga Six that it could be no-one else, because there is no-one quite like them. They take an idea and clothe it in so many other ideas that it almost topples under the weight, tottering and stumbling but always kept upright by the confidence of the drummer Gareth Champion, and the sheer brilliance of their playing. What an achievement.
The brilliance of that song is no mere accident as “Former Selves” proves. When people say ‘they don’t write songs like they used to these days’ just take a listen to this one. With one lift after another, this is classic song writing of the highest order. It is presented, and unfolds like a 3 course meal at an exclusive restaurant, building from an entrée into a taste sensation of sax solos and beatiful tunes merging and popping on the tastebuds like space dust, before leaving you sated with the wafer thin mint of Paul’s dulcet tones. It doesn’t get better than this. Or does it? Because we’re not done yet, as the cowboy yelps of Adam Ant introduce “Stranger In Your Own Mind” into the paddock, followed by the Scott Walker vocal which preludes the finger clicking “Ipso facto”, and why am I imagining a young Una Stubbs and crew dancing around a white film set in black leotards to a Barry Adamson song? Weird. I think I need to go for a walk. They’re having a most odd effect on me. The whole Barry Adamson city soundtrack spills over into “Kate & Cindy” with Mike Garson piano trills sandwiched between a slice of balls out Queens Of The Stone Age rock. Amazing. The drama continues with “It Is The Face Wish How” (What??!!), with its slow staccato stately pace and such sumptious harmonies. Like the song “Black Sabbath” played by the Everley Brothers… or something. “Then I Met Joanna” ends the album on a song that once again sounds so much like a tune only the Scara’s can do, filled as it is with everything from jaunty XTC pop, Tom Baker era Dr. Who incidental music, Jacques Brel drama and much more besides. It’s all quite breath-taking.
Before I leave, I really must comment on the hilarious cover depicting the members of the band in full on Elizabethan portraiture, with the exception of Steven Morricone who, I’m pretty sure, looks like that all the time! And as for the title, well it’s really not worthless at all. The Scaramanga Six will be touring in December (supported by the also wonderful Stephen Evens) and I shall be there with fucking bells on. They are not to be missed. They are the greatest band in the world… Oh dear I’ve gone overboard again, but in my defence, I should say that they made me.
Worthless Music is out on 1st December via Wrath Records. Get it on CD or digital download via Bandcamp
Find out more on The Scaramange Six’s official website
Review by Andrew Wood