Men On The Border are a Swenglish duo (Göran Nyström & Phil Etheridge) who surprised the world around June 2012 with the release of their album Shine! (exclamation point included). The album consisted entirely of Syd Barrett covers that were, for a change, not meticulously cloned, but recreated following the weird musical rules from their Nordic universe. The album was (still is) a smasher, although that may not have resulted in a million selling mega success. Of course that is entirely their responsibility as they neglected to follow the Reverend's advice to make a video clip where bikini-clad ladies would have logistic problems with melting ice cream.
In an interview from this summer, originally published (in Spanish) on Sole En Las Nubes, and hosted at the Church as well (Men On The Border, Syd Swedish version, thanks Antonio!) they broke the news that a new album, called Jumpstart would see the light of day this year.
It made me wonder if MOTB would suffer from Second Album Syndrome, also know as Sophomore Slump in more academic circles, especially as the band would have no recourse to the effervescing work of Syd Barrett this time. How will their own work be received by the Barrett community, now that there is no more Syd to rely on... Well let's find out, shall we?
The album starts traditionally with the title track. An electric guitar mimics a starting motor, I remember that trick from Todd Rundgren's solo on Bad Out of Hell, yes the Reverend is that old, and the song further evolves into a pub rock tune that asks to be played very loud. As a starter it hardly sounds original, but who needs originality when it comes to having fun? The track digs into the rich history of rock'n roll, with prominent drums and riffs that nod slightly towards Run Like Hell. This is the kind of song that makes me think that I urgently need a beer. A Danish beer, close enough.
Those who feared there would be no Syd at all on the album are contradicted by track two. Baby Lemonade sounds as if the song has been put in a washing machine with punk rock fabric softener. Suddenly the song oozes sex and its pistols all over, and it makes me wonder how it could have sounded sung in a wild cockney accent by Sid. Yes, that Sid. Men On The Border keep it tidy though and even use a harpsichord that gently clashes with the loud guitars. They're such nice boys.
Pills immediately caught our attention with its keyboard line
that has a certain Floydian feel.
I Don't Want To Be Your Man starts lennonesque with harrisonesque undertones until it changes after the mid-solo into signature MOTB with a couple of sweet oohs and aahs before the track turns somewhat bitter. Quite a crispy song.
Have You Got It Yet, another pub rocker that could be from a Status Quo record. Nice tune, nothing more, nothing less. A typical album track, with all the tricks from a fun rock track that could turn into one's live favourite...
The Public: one of Phil's tracks, bringing a change in tone and
atmosphere and a more introspective tune.
Old Friends benefits from an El Condor Pasa treatment and is quite an earworm, actually.
Garden has a certain 60s beat feel in its 'no no no' refrain, but is one of the lesser tunes.
Destiny Today is a grower until it sticks in your mind like Velcro. It reminds me of those sweet pastoral hymns by the gentlemen Waters and Gilmour, that either are perfectly swell (Fat Old Sun) or complete duds (Smile). Its mid-piece adventure into prog-territory and backward tapes gives the track some extra panache. Of course I can't help to immediately associate the words 'endless' and ‘river’ with High Hopes, although the endless is linked to laughter here. That is the toll of 4 decades of Floydian obsession. The song's atmosphere makes me think of Where We Start (Gilmour), that I first found terribly boring (like almost everything from On An Island) but that grew on me like a wart on a witches nose.
Warm From You starts a bit like a French pop tune and I more or less suspected Jane Birkin to join in. A very good song with some slight Bryan Ferry & Mick Ronson influences that gains some momentum near the end...
Terrapin, the second Barrett cover. A weird bend in my brain immediately links this to early Bowie in his Quicksand period and of course this tune immediately gets stuck in your mind like mental flypaper. Cool guitar stuff and a vintage Men On The Border quality treatment...
Something For The Waiting: what a weird and nice oddity. At the start it made me think of a toned down mashup of Mad World (Tears For Fears) and As Tears Go By (Rolling Stones), but after that the song wanders into its own folkish psychedelic territory...
Let's Party (Yeah Yeah) starts like a failed Sparks single and doesn't seem to go anywhere in the beginning (for over one and a half minute). Luckily it evolves into a cool rocker when the drums kick in. In a previous review we mentioned Graham Parker & The Rumour and the classic setup of Rockpile (with Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe) as possible influences on Men On The Border and in this case it results in a fucking good song, probably the best on the album.
The ambient end of the last track, a reprise of Jumpstart, has a surprise in the form of a friendly nod to Pink Floyd lovers...
So have Men On The Border avoided the second album syndrome, I hear you ask. Well actually, it is not a bad attempt, not bad at all. I would have liked some of the tunes a bit messier, the singing a bit less polished but that is probably my education, not having grown up in a string quartet, you see...
Throughout this review I have been throwing song references and bands around, MOTB surely know their history and use it to their own benefit, turning the sounds of the sixties, seventies and eighties into something new-millennium-wise.
Don't worry about this, lads, Jumpstart is more than OK, it is quite excellent as a matter of fact, so you can start fearing the difficult third album now, and that is gonna be a real drag!
Just as with Shine! the packaging of this album is a feast for the eye.
The front cover has been designed by Ian Barrett.
Ian Barrett Art
Kajsa-Tuva Henrikkson, who was present on Shine! as well,
made the CD art.