Track by Track: MJ Hibbett guides us through his new solo LP ‘The Unearthly Beauty of M.J. Hibbett’

As many people did, we first came across M.J. Hibbett through his excellent 2005 single ‘Hey Hey 16k‘ and the accompanying video by B3ta’s Rob Manuel which did the rounds spreading retro computer nerd joy to every corner of the internet. Since that discovery we’ve delighted in his whimsical world of IT department romances, musical epiphanies and space dinosaurs.

Until now these have all been delivered with the participation of his band, The Validators, but Hibbett’s latest album The Unearthly Beauty of M.J. Hibbett sees him going solo for the first time on an LP. There’s still plenty that fans of the full band will recognise, particularly in his observations of life’s daily struggles and triumphs which balance humour and heart perfectly as usual, but the more stripped back instrumentation on display in many songs here allows the words to take the spotlight a little more, while the freedom to make the album in whatever manner he chooses allows delightful swerves like the deeply pleasing lurch from the gentle acoustic strum of ‘It’s Hard to Be Hopeful’ to ‘Firedrill”s breakneck chiptune romp, and lyrical wanderings, perhaps most clearly exemplified by ‘Ode On a Blue Bag”s conversation with a bag of dog poo.

We caught up with M.J. for a track by track guide to the new record.

The whole point of this album was to do stuff my own way without checking with anybody else. My last album came out six years ago and since then I’ve been working on loads of different things that all required the permission of other people to keep moving, notably a PhD. It was lots of fun, but after all that I really fancied doing something where I didn’t have to check in with anybody at all, so when I finally finished my PhD (I am now Doctor Hibbett!) I decided to get myself set up at home and record a solo album, using my favourites of the various songs that had piled up.

The original plan was to call it Back To The Office because there are so many songs about Things That Have Annoyed Me In Jobs – it always seems weird to me that most of us have to go to work, and yet there’s hardly any songs about it – but after about 10 minutes I realised that that was quite a boring title. The whole idea of the album was that it was completely unfiltered and all down to me, which meant I could call it whatever I liked – so I did, and that’s why it’s called The Unearthly Beauty Of MJ Hibbett. Here’s what’s on it.

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?
Is there anything worse than taking your laundry out of the machine and realising you left an old tissue in your trousers, so that now everything’s covered in snowy dots of paper? Well yes, obviously there is, but it’s still upsetting at the time. My main hope for this song is that it makes people stop saying “worse things happen at sea”.

For those lucky enough not to know, “Agile” is a methodology designed to help software develops deliver products to customers in a quick, reliable way. It probably works really well in those situations but is a massive pile of bollocks everywhere else when it’s basically an excuse to dash jobs off in a meaningless two week “sprint” and never take responsibility for nothing actually working. It’s basically a protest song!

Someone Else’s Turn
I’m forever reading articles where the authors bemoans the fact that a night club they used to go to ten years ago is now closing down. “But where will The Kids go for fun?” they always ask, and the answer they never want to contemplate is always “Somewhere else that isn’t tainted by boring old sods like you and I”. Whenever I see one of these articles, or more usually people I know moaning about something similar on Facebook, I want there to be a song that sums up why they’re being idiots, so I wrote one!

It’s Hard To Be Hopeful
As minds immeasurably superior to mine have often said, it’s been a fairly grim few years in the UK political scene. Usually I try to look on the bright side of things, but even I’ve find it difficult lateley, so this was meant to sum up that feeling. It was really hard not to put a joke in, and I think the “Why don’t I just switch off my television set…” bit is as close as I could let myself get without spoiling the whole idea. Also, I do love an open top bus tour!

Fire Drill
The words for this one were written during a fire drill at my work, as I walked round the block muttering and grumbling to myself about how stupid it is having so many of them. Every time the fire bell goes off, in every office I’ve ever worked in, there’s a collective groan followed by several minutes getting coats on, as everyone just assumes it’s “yet another bloody drill”. Fire wardens! Tell us in advance that it’s happening and we’ll respect the process and do it properly without moaning, then when the fire drill goes off unexpectedly we’ll know it’s the real thing and not hang around!

Ode On A Blue Bag
I had this riff that sounded very grown-up and sensible, so intended to write something stern and important to go along with it. Unfortunately these words came out instead and kept on coming, forcing themselves into a middle eight along the way. This is a key example of a song being on the album because nobody else was there to tell me not to do it!

People Who Stand In The Door
I had the flat to myself one day and had great plans for recording loads of guitar parts for the album. Before I did that I popped to the shops and had to squeeze past some idiots who were standing having a chat in a doorway, who then got annoyed because I was trying to use it as an actual door. I work in a University, so I’m forever climbing over students who have decided to radically reinvent the concept of floor space by getting in the way and so this song materialised fully formed in my brain. I recorded the whole song that afternoon, and the other guitar parts had to wait for another time.

Stick To The Agenda
In an office environment it is invariably the people who complain most about how busy they are and how little time they have who also waste hours of everybody’s else’s time by going on and on in meetings about utterly irrelevant rubbish so that they always go on way longer than they should have done. As the song says, if they could just stick to the flipping agenda we would all have loads more time to do everything else. Again, a protest song!

The House On The Borderland
I’ve wanted to write this song for years and years. “The House On The Borderland” was a shop that started on Peterborough Market in the early 80s and then moved through various locations over the next thirty years or so before eventually shutting down about a decade ago. To me and my friends at school it was a comic shop, but it was also a record shop selling all sorts of esoteric stuff (including lots of punk, apparently), none of which fitted in with Peterborough at the time. There’s hardly anything at all about it on the internet – the only picture I could find online was taken from outside its final location, down an alley next to a tatoo parlour – which seemed wrong to me. As the song says, places like this have a massive effect on people’s lives, and deserve some commemoration, even if it’s just a track on an album by me.

Apocalypse Prepared
This one went through at least three different versions, all trying to get at the idea that a lifetime of reading and watching post-apocalyptic fiction means that I am fully prepared for anything like it happening in real life. For some reason the final version ended up veering off into a general rant about even more things that annoy me. It’s definitely a theme!

Bad Back
A few years ago I went through a period of having a really bad back. It was horrible and dead painful, but the worst of it was that other people thought it was hilarious! I distinctly remember staggering into a pub, bent over in agony like an old man, and people laughing at the state of me – I know it’s not a properly serious ailment, but it flipping hurt, so this song is an attempt to impress that upon people, and also to recommend doing the NHS Daily Back Exercises. They work!

Kenny’s Brother Alan’s Stag Do
This is the longest song on the album by miles. It wasn’t meant to be, but the story just kept going and going. When we practiced it once with The Validators it felt like it took all day, so for this recording I went to great effort to vary the sound all the way through. It’s not a true story at all – I don’t have a friend called Kenny, for instance, and I’ve never been to a stag do that I haven’t enjoyed – but it is based on various stories other people have told me. It’s meant to be an extended metaphor for Brexit, and the idea of it being like a massive stag do gone horribly wrong seemed to fit horribly well.

I Think I Did OK
This was one of the easiest songs to write as it’s basically the contents of my brain every morning after an evening out the night before. I love singing the final “I am always delightful” line at gigs, although I do then always worry about it the next morning.

What I Always Think While Watching Poetry
I wrote the words for this ages ago, after playing a succession of gigs alongside poets. I actually quite like performance poetry, but I can never understand why they can’t at least learn some of the words. In order to make the bleepy bloopy words in the background I scrawled the word “POETRY” across a MIDI file – obviously you can’t tell, but I thought it was dead clever, so I’m delighted to finally be able to tell people about it!

The Unearthly Beauty of MJ Hibbett is out now. Order on limited edition USB Drive or digital download via Bandcamp.

Find out more on MJ Hibbett’s official website

Introduction by Paul Maps

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