MJ Hibbett and the Validators - Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez
(Artists Against Success AAS062, release date May 11th 2009)
It's been three years since the excellent MJ Hibbett and the Validators' last album "We Validate" but that doesn't mean that band, and especially MJ himself, haven't been busy. Oh no. There's been two solo albums ("A Million Ukeleles" and the ultra-limited "All Around My House"), an Edinburgh festival show "My Exciting Life In Rock" and another festival show in the planning for August this year. However, there's also been new Validators material released last year in the form of my single of 2008, "Do The Indie Kid" and the equally lovely follow up "It Only Works Becuase You're Here" which have only given the fans a taster of the album to come.
Some time in the offing then, but the question is: has it been worth it? After listening to the album a fair few times, I'm more than pleased to say it's a most qualified yes. The CD comes in a really striking green sleeve with black and white art of the band members in various phases of indie rock, and a nice clean back sleeve and inside with an easy to read track listing and credits. In case you're wondering about the lyrics, the initial run of the CD comes with an A5 booklet with lyrics and the words to each song, but that booklet is also available as a PDF file on the CD as well, meaning you still get all the goodies anyway.
Straight away we're into indie pop territory with an already live favourite "Being Happy Doesn't Make You Stupid", and why should it? With plenty of references to using comics as a metaphor for cheering yourself up (well in MJ's case anyway) and with a singalong chorus, it really suggests that sometimes emo kids need to actually cheer up a bit too - not least with the pause in the action with all the band singing "Hey there, emo boy, give us all a smile" (which lots of people sing to live, too) which pins the song down wonderfully well. It's short and sweet and gives you a perfect start to the album. And then.. straight into "Do The Indie Kid". It's basically the same as the brilliant single from last year: sing along chorus complete with dance move that you can actually do even if you can't dance, and mentions of parents trying to dance to the Pixies. How can it fail? It doesn't. It's effortlessly catchy, and on the album version the "music of the future" bit has been completely changed, and it sounds just as avant-garde, but in a completely different way, in that it sounds a bit less scary. This is a good thing, and still means you've got enough difference to buy the single if you so desire.
"Do More, Eat Less" is pretty much an anthem for anyone attempting to diet, myself included at the moment. It urges you to get rid of any excuses that you might have for things not working (such as "It's unfair I can't lose this weight whilst wolfing down another pack of Pringles"). Throughout, you've got Emma Pattison's whispered vocals which sound quite sultry but get the message across really nicely, not least at the end where her "do more, eat less" dominates the fadeout (even the munching of crisps) rather nicely. Also, Tom McClure's violin really underpins the chorus parts well, meaning it has a feeling of cuteness whilst getting the message across. The track's a real grower. You then have "Best Behaviour" which details how a lot of people behave when they have just got into a relationship with someone and are attempting to make a good impression - sort of instinct, but how really we should try and behave like that all the time and not just at certain times, maybe with suavity, good grace and politeness. It's all pretty good, although sometimes the vocals aren't as high up in the mix as I'd like them - minor niggle though.
One of my favourite tracks is next, "All The Good Men", which in many a way is a follow up to the previous track, where women on a hen night are asking where the good men are, simply because those that tend to bed them are ones that treat them a bit rubbish, and that in fact someone who they may see as a geek might prove to be the loveliest person out there who'll treat them with kindness, said succinctly and with real passion, and you can find them at certain places like supporters clubs, driving mini-vans, managing teams and so on, and that often the real man is next door in the real ale pub rather than the local Wetherspoons pub where the local scroats tend to go. It's meant with pride, and rightly so. Then there's "We Can Start Having Fun", which is beautifully lilting, and details how at various stages in life you want to have fun, but real life gets in the way, such as University, having children and responsibilities, and that after studying, learning and working, "doing what I hoped was right", just wanting to escape and have some time for yourself. The way it builds up into a crescendo of pure unbundled joy is a masterstroke, and credit to drummer and producer Tim Pattison for that, who got it nailed, and the final verse just really is for everyone: "so take my hand and come on, let's bugger off into the sun" which, let's face it, is what most of us want to do when we're able to, and not least me - give me a lottery win and I'll be off to Cornwall to retire, let me tell you.
"Red Black Gold" details about the Kinder Scout mass protests and incorporates an urban legend about the Kremlin taking over petrol service stations along the B6061 (the road that takes you there). And tied in with that after the first fast phase is the slower second phase and "the bomb" is the mention of how Smiths and Morrissey fans debated over the lyrics to "Ask" and in that the kids of today might not understand the whole meaning of the song and its words, and with MJ being a Smiths fan, it's quite something to get mention of them on the second album on the trot (see "The Lesson of the Smiths" on "We Validate"). I'm not sure the two phases work entirely together, it might have been better as two separate subjects, but that's open to debate. Then there's a real bright spot, "My Boss Was In An Indie Band Once", which details pretty much as it says on the tin, how a lot of people who are now in management used to, in their previous days, be in an indie band, and how all of a sudden they'll get a massive following in Japan and then all of a sudden rediscover that actually they weren't so bad after all and then you'll end up acting up for the boss while they're in an indie band, and you'll be the one in an indie band once. It's all good fun, and plenty of mentions of indie venues, Steve Lamacq even, and just plenty to commend it - proper indie pop at its best.
The phone rings nine times for the start of "It Only Works Because You're Here" (it was faded in on the single version) which actually as part of the intro works well, and better than the single (the opening line mentions the phone ringing nine times, you see.) It's still a great tale of love in the IT community, and working in IT myself, the amount of people who have a problem, you fix it and they feel embarrassed and say "it only works because you're here" is proof that it does happen and rings true, which details it all perfectly. Not least at the end where the IT worker declares his love by putting his hand to his heart. It's one of MJ's favourite songs, and I'm inclined to agree, and the ending is just lovely and sweet indie pop perfection. "One Of The Walls Of My House Fell In" then mentions the tale of being at a gig, finding out your house needs urgent repairs, and is basically all about how you start off with a DIY job and ending up with much more grand ideas than what you'd actually started with, and with tarpaulin flapping along the way. It's all gentle and melodic, and the violin just tends to work really well to underpin the whole thing, but I'm not quite sure...
"We're Old And We're Tired (and we want to go home)" is a tale about how all gigs end at stupid o'clock, and how they should end earlier so that you can actually do normal things like go home, sleep, watching Newsnight, calling in the cat and spending quality time with your loved one (and indeed for the fans that'd mean they'd be able to get home safer too). Call it anthemic, call it catchy, but there's a good point here, and the singalong chorus really is something that makes it all work wonderfully well, at a nice fast pace to really bop around too. This is primarily because of the chugalong feel of the guitars and drums that make you want to do all that, and of course then go home afterwards. I'll subscribe to the Get Gigs Finished Earlier Campaign, please! Then there's the rather long, prog-rock style "Leicester's Trying To Tell Me Something", which details how, one by one, many pubs and gig venues in Leicester who will have hosted the band in some time, has been closed, demolished, turned into flats, and that "they're trying to knock down my life in rock". It's the same with other places across the country, but as Leicester's always been good to the band, it had to be mentioned here. It gradually builds up into a feeling of despair about everywhere closing, with makes it a really dramatic close to the album.
Well, almost, the instrumental title track "Regardez Ecoutez et Repetez", not on the CD track listing, ends things. It was originally made for an idea for an advert, and sounds almost film-like in its soft, dreamy feel. It's definitely a wind down after the really dark and downcast feel of "Leicester's Trying To Tell Me Something" and just closes the album as it should.
As added extras, you get the booklet in PDF form, and also a magzine in PDF, "Vlad Facts" which are facts about the band members, questions and answers, and even a crossword to do which you can then hand in at a future gig for a free pint if you win (neat idea). You also have a dozen MP3 demo versions of various tracks from the album, including an early demo for "Do The Indie Kid", called "Love Instead" with completely different words but the same chords and musical theme, intriguing that.
So, on the whole, how does it pan out? Well, the production is spot on for the most part, with instruments being allowed to flow freely, and notably with plenty of emphasis on a clear compact one take recorded sound that immediately appeals. There's also a fair usage of trumpet and euphonium on certain tracks, but it's done tastefully and adds rather than detracts from the whole thing. There are a couple of tracks that I do have issues with, mainly because I'm not sure if they completely fit in the context of the album, but they're minor niggles, and shouldn't detract at all from what is a quality package, and one that you should purchase. Sort of now. Like, now.
Warren's rating: 92%