MJ Hibbett and the Validators - The Lesson of The Smiths / The Gay Train

(Artists Against Success AAS056)

After the rather excellent album that is We Validate!, time for another nice MJ Hibbett and the Validators single. This time around, the EP is a double A-side with both tracks being on We Validate! - along with the usual value for money extras of a few bonus tracks, and as is the usual for the band, a host of extras on the multimedia section of the CD. So what's there to like?

As soon as you see the sleeve, you'll see that the cover's a nice tribute to those Smiths singles covers. The band all had a go at doing a tribute, and the one that won adorns the front cover - no less than Barbarism Begins At Home, re-done by Emma Pattison from the band - and nicely done. Open the foldout sleeve, and from top left to bottom right you get eight other efforts, and they are What Difference Does It Make?, William It Was Really Nothing, The Queen Is Dead, Meat Is Murder, Bigmouth Strikes Again, Sheila Take A Bow, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and How Soon Is Now? (I know my Smiths covers, I do :)

As it happens, The Lesson of The Smiths is my favourite track off We Validate! The opening just reminds me of several classic Smiths songs, and the whole theme revolves around the fact that just because other people you may not like might like the music of The Smiths or Take That, it shouldn't stop you enjoying their tunes if you actually like them. The chorus is said with so much aplomb which reinforces the theme, but because of the use of words like "pillocks", "wankers" and some swear word beginning with "s", even though done tongue in cheek, it may have fallen foul of the censors. So much so, that for this EP you have the standard album version as well as a radio edit as the last track, which adds silent parts to where the offensive words would be. I guess one option would have been to use an alternative word here and there, but it may have flowed the feel of the song somewhat.

"The Gay Train" is the other A-side here, and starting off all John Cooper Clarke, it tells the story of being in London and watching a Gay Pride parade, and how the letting off of the balloons to signify those who'd died of AIDS being a poignant and touching moment. The key lyrics though were what Hibbett's mate's dad said to him once "It doesn't matter if you're straight or gay, all that matters is love" - and that is so true. It's quintessentially the same as the album version, but no bad thing as it works really well.

And the live favourite "Never Going Back To Aldi's" is next up on the EP, a jolly little tale of how when money was scarce that Hibbett would shop there but once he started earning more money, the food in his fridge was the equivalent of bling and so he never had to darken Aldi's door again. Previously only available on some Artists Against Success compilation, it's a welcome move to see it released properly. "Other Band's Setlists" says what it does on the tin. It details how bands leave setlists behind and how it paints a picture of their music to the next band that plays with what's on their lists, usually typed or laser printed on A4. Cute!

An acoustic version of "We Only Ever Meet In Church" follows, and although not as full on as the big band that appears on the album version, it's different enough to be enjoyable, sounding very raw and stripped down. In terms of production there's a bit of an echo in Hibbett's voice, but the feel comes across nonetheless. Then there's a cover version of "Vicar In A Tutu", the Smiths classic. In fact I can only recall one previous cover of this song (as done by Therapy?) so it was nice to hear it. It's not that much different from the original as such, but it has that really immediate "done in half an hour" feel that makes it work.

And there's more in the multimedia section. As well as all the lyrics and annotations to all of the songs, you also get the video for "The Gay Train" as well. Although it's been online for a considerable amount of time, the Quicktime version here is much much better quality than the online one, and very watchable. A worthwhile addition, as is the demo version of "Hey Hey 64K", a reworking of "Hey Hey 16K" with Commodore 64-related lyrics instead. It only got to demo stage, but the annotation and lyrics explain just what happened to that. Oh, and how about a full gig from Leicester in MP3 format? That's there too, although you're probably best playing them from the folder, as the HTML used requires lots of active content permissions on IE, and it doesn't play with Firefox. The gig itself sounds rough and ready, but nonetheless it's a freebie, so no complaints really - plus it gives you an idea of the live set.

What's apparent here is that as an EP it works well as a sampler for the band's work, and if you haven't heard them before, it's well worth checking out. In fact, do yourself a favour - order it now and be satisfied with the fact you've discovered the true raw spirit of indie music that's still out there. For a fiver you get quality audio tracks and a host of multimedia extras that just give you immense value for money. And that has to be a ogod thing doesn't it? I guarantee you'll be singing along the chorus to The Lesson of The Smiths.. it's just so catchy!

Warren's rating: 90%