For the last few years, Ben Lee has been on a spiritual and philosophical journey through his music, firstly touching on feminism with 2009’s Rebirth of Venus, then a succession of concept based albums based on, in order, the power of dreams (2011’s Deeper into Dream), experiences with South American Tribal hallucinogens (on 2013’s bizarre Ayahuasca: Welcome to the Work), Love (on 2015 major label debut Love is the Great Rebellion) and discovering your own consciousness (on last year’s Freedom, Love and The Recuperation of the Human Mind). Ben Lee Sings Songs About Islam for the Whole Family appears to be both an extension of this journey, and a political statement with the announcement of this record coming in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban”.
Being someone whose beliefs swing between Agnostic and full-on Atheist listening to what has been described as a children’s album, I was concerned that the album would be 1) too preachy, and 2) full of childlike music and lyrics. Although there are songs that fall into the former (Assalamuaaikum) or the latter (the lyric “I’m sorry for telling my brother he smells, I’m sorry I laughed when my Math teacher fell” On Astagfittulah for example), on the whole it is Ben Lee doing what he does best – 3 minute pop songs, in this case about peace, love, positive thinking and doing what is right. None of the tracks would sound out of place on some of Ben Lee’s proper albums (the pop-laden Rebirth of Vegas in particular) with both “Rain” and “Try Try Try” being wonderful pieces of indie-pop. The album’s surprise stand out track, however, is the incredibly positive Happy Heart, relaying a message about believing in yourself. Overall, this is an uplifting selection of songs, and the perfectly peaceful response to Trump, in a way only Ben Lee can.
Back in the UK, Nottingham’s Sleaford Mods appear to be Marmite to music fans. The sparse backing tracks paired with Jason Williamson’s thick East Midlands accent can be too much for people, regardless whether you agree with their left wing political leanings. In fact, I believe they can only be fully enjoyed if you 1) agree with their politics and 2) have time to listen to them with no distractions to fully appreciate Williamson’s lyrical content and Andrew Fearn’s beats. Their material is effectively beat-poetry, although on “English Tapas” the backing is less sparse than previously, coming across as more of a hip-hop record. Lyrically, it appears that Williamson has become a little less sweary, although the album is still laden with expletives, and the duo continue to live up to their reputation as the commentator’s of modern Britain, covering topics such as LAD culture (on the opener Army Nights), binge drinking (Drayton Manored), recreational drugs (Messy Anywhere), the Labour Party (Carlton Touts) and hipsters (Just Like We Do), with a generous splattering of Brexit and the government. Despite Williamson’s anger at the state of the nation – such as his tirade at the older generation’s tendency to vote for Brexit on Dull – he manages to deliver lyrics that are witty and at times funny, such as the chorus of Drayton Manored, with “A Trip to Spar is like a trip to Mars” describing a mid-session beer-run. There are also plenty of pop-culture references in the lyrics too, the government being compared to the asset stripping Phil Green on BHS, referring to Superdry as the “Uniform of the Working Class” on Snout, commenting on the credit culture with “I’ve got a store-card, bastard, on this months Top Shop” on Carlton Touts, and telling us to “try scrolling down a website, the NME , without laughing” on Dull to describe the sorry state of the UK music scene. If the UK music scene has gone stale (and many would agree that it needs another ‘revolution’ like 1977 or the Britpop movement) then the Sleaford Mods are doing their best to liven things up
After all that “music with a message”, paired with a busy weekend and a hectic few days at work, I felt like I needed something a little more fun for my third listen of the week, and Canadian faux-Scots punks The Real McKenzies new album Two Devils Will Talk was just what I needed – From the bagpipe-heavy opener “Due West”, through the more traditional (but with punk drums) sounding “Northwest Passage”, the more SoCal style Punk sound of “Float”, and the ridiculous shout along “F*** The Real McKenzies”, to the wonderfully strange punk version of Robert Burns’ “Scots Wha Hae” which closes the album. It’s by no means a musical masterpiece but it is certainly an enjoyable listen!