MJ Hibbett and the Validators - We Validate!

(Artists Against Success AAS052)

A few years ago plenty of you may have seen a really good flash animation by Rob Manuel of B3ta fame, which featured the song Hey Hey 16K, a loving tribute to all things computer gaming back in the 80s. Everyone loved the animated video, but not everyone realised the tune was that by MJ Hibbett and the Validators. Once I'd discovered that I checked out some more of their stuff, and seeing them live at Back in Time Lite! last year with Hey Hey 16K played live (and I now have the t-shirt) was just pure joy.

You remember when indie was indie? No posturing, no posing, no signing to major labels on principle. Just releasing stuff for the sake of it, and through word of mouth getting a fan base. And if you hit the charts that was a major bonus. Well, with We Validate!, the band's latest release, that's exactly how you'll feel when you listen to it. It just has that spirit of C86 coupled together with the intelligent and witty insights of MJ Hibbett that works so well, from the nice fold out CD sleeve to the liner notes on the CD itself (more about that later on).

So once you start to listen, what is it like? Well, it's very quintessentially indie pop with a real observational edge. This is just exemplified in the opener, "Tell Me Something You Do Like" where it's basically about the fact that people who get interviewed on BBC 6 Music have nothing much to say, and instead they should lighten up a bit and tell the public what they like. One part of the song rattles off Hibbett's own personal likes, including Euros, Truro and Lego bricks - all in one line. It's set off by a really dirty bass line that really dominates proceedings, but in a wholesome way. Then there's "Looking At My Hands" which has a really loud Oasis-esque guitar as the whole thing's set about how you look at yourselves in the toilet or bathroom and thinking "you know what? I feel rough this morning". And how you used to worry about things back then but now you don't care, you're more contented and happy, something I really relate to.

"Better Things To Do" was the single, and not difficult to see why. It's amazingly quirky but fantastic at the same time. Like the middle section which basically says that I can't be arsed to write lyrics for this part, so here's some la la la instead, but the whole songs is basically about things that he doesn't have time or knowledge to do, but in fact spending time with someone you really care about are much better things to do. "Like walking in the park with you And talking in the dark with you.." for example. It's just amazingly catchy. "Girlfriend Alarmed" is just a nice little story of how girlfriends don't always appreciate that when blokes are in the pub, they just talk and chat in a certain way and "Look at all the other men in the pub, they'll be talking like us" just seems really apt to be honest. The strings here work really well particularly in the chorus.

"The Gay Train" is a really well told story about being in London, seeing a gay pride parade, and then seeing the white balloons being let off as part of an awareness of AIDS et al, and how much it touched people and made them feel less worried around gay people. The opening bit is just so John Cooper Clarke as Hibbett sets the story nicely before a nice guitar riff comes in and gets the tune really going. The key here is near the end - "It doesn't matter if you're straight or gay, all that matters is love" and that's so bloody true. The video is well worth checking out too, done by Rob Manuel. It has that indie quirkiness you know you really love. "Dino At The Sands" is all about comedy double acts, and it's really sad and poignant and reflective. I really love the fact it's a simple acoustic and string number and the lightness and sadness works lovely, although it's a little short it does the job really well.

"Breaks In The Journey" suffers a little in the mixing department, but the theme of the song is intact, and how everyone's different when they drive, some just like to go straight there and not stop, where others love the odd break here and there and indeed really want to spend some quality time along the way. "The Fight For History" is a really sharp political number, and written after Reagan had died, it tells it how the 80s was in reality, and that the true history of the 80s will only really come to the fore once Thatcher has died. It really puts down the US Presidency and the Tories at the same time, something yours truly can fully relate to. It's mixed a bit loud, but it certainly gets the message across. "We will fight for history on the day that Thatcher's dead".. say no more.

"Mental Judo" reminisces a time when the band spent time gigging with another band in Scotland playing a venue too big for them, not many people turning up and just managing to enjoy things for what it is and not for what it isn't. It also gives Emma Pattison a verse to sing on her own, and that's a really nice touch. It just brings a subtle warmth to the whole thing and feels a little melancholy at the same time. Then there's one of my favourites, even better live, "Quality of Life Enhancement Device", a cute little song which basically tells of how little things you buy can be a really life-enhancing thing, and in this song's case, a four way plug, a sieve, a mini-vac and so on. It doesn't have to be a mega thing either, just something small, and that comes across really well. It even allows you in the song to go to the web site for the song and submit your own. You might want to try that here.

Next though is my favourite, and not just because it mentiones Morrissey either. "The Lesson of the Smiths" just has a Smiths-esque guitar lick and just is great fun, and how Morrissey, Marr and Barlow (yes, Gary Barlow!) supposedly saved Hibbett's life, but also an important lesson for all of you out there, kind of so what if you're not supposed to like that music? If you like it, that's all that matters. The final verse also mentions about how people sometimes don't see the true point of things like anti-war marches and make it for themselves as their own agenda. But the chorus is absolutely pure joy, and makes this song so bloody marvellous, namely: "Remember the lesson of Take That, If a pile of pillocks pretend to like it, doesn't mean it's crap, And remember the lesson of The Smiths, Just because a bunch of wankers like it, doesn't mean that it's shit." Say no more. And it just lyrically and musically is of such great quality.

The album closer, "We Only Ever Meet in Church" is so true about some relatives or friends you might have that you end up losing touch with and only ever meet in church for occasions like weddings and funerals, and how to try and avoid that. It's a slow, brooding piece, and seems a bit of an odd way to close the album, but nonetheless it's got a John Cooper Clarke-esque spoken word part which just lightens the mood slightly. And there's two extra tracks on the CD which make up the slight return of "Dino At The Sands" which is a different original working version trimmed down, just to cutely tack on at the end as a closer.

I've only really touched on the surface here, but suffice to say that the whole album just shows how bloody great indie music can truly be, and indeed how often a lot of the time it's very easy to overlook something just because it's not deemed to be popular. Okay, it might not have the best production values, but who cares? What shines through is the song writing and the music, and that's very much to the fore here with infectious catchy observational numbers which makes you want to sing along or bounce around the room in pure unadultered joy. And isn't that what it's supposed to be about these days?

And... there's more. Put the CD in your PC, and you'll get a nice little set of HTML web pages (although they don't display properly in Firefox due to non-standards compliant code present) which have all the lyrics, and further explanations of all the songs and how they came about. Reading them is absolutely great fun and shows how much a little idea can grow into a song. There's also plenty of demo and rough versions of the songs in their early form in mp3 format which shows how the song developed as well. On the whole, a nice touch and something definitely worth checking out - not least for the lyrics!

So let me say this again: indie music never died. It just stayed underground. And for the corporate major label whores watching and listening, I hope MJ Hibbett and the Validators stay true to their roots, otherwise they might not be able to make such an enjoyable and fun album to listen to as this one, and that would be a damn shame if you ask me. And so what if it's not perfect? That's not the point. The whole point is that it's very human, very quirky and from the heart, and it just makes you want to listen to it again. And again. And that's the important point.

I strongly suggest you get this CD. Visit the band's web site and order there, but if you don't want to use Paypal, order the album off Amazon and do what I did - go to the "buy new and used" and select the mjhibbett seller from the new list. That way you buy it off the artist directly too and give them some much needed money. And long may they be making great albums like this, which is already in serious running for my favourite album of 2006. Yes folks, it's that good. Buy it. Now. And buy copies for your friends while you're at it.

Warren's rating: 94%