Settle in children, as Ed Zed brilliantly tells of the maniacal genius of The Cravats…
Rarely is it a good idea for punk bands to return with a new album following a few decades’ absence. All too often that vital vim, venom and raw energy become deadened over time or else extinguished completely, so that a band may be able to play a bit better but ultimately have fuck all to say and sound glaringly obsolete saying it.
The Cravats, however, are different. Very, very different. And indeed, to label these sax-bleating Dadaist psycho-geniuses merely as a punk band would be to do them a cruel disservice.
For those unfamiliar, The Cravats began life in the unassuming English town of Redditch in that fabled year of 1977, operating in something of a vacuum of their own making – which is to say they flagrantly defied the more rigid of punk’s pieties to become something more akin to a jazz-damaged, absurdist theatre troupe – almost a genre unto themselves.
Having infected the post-punk milieu with some of the most outlandishly exciting music it had yet seen, The Cravats went on indefinite hiatus around 1985, not to be heard from again (at least not under their sartorial banner) until the hoverboard-festooned superfuture of the 2010s, when they re-emerged with ‘Jingo Bells’, a growling gob in the face of Tory-‘led’ Britain.
The record picked up almost seamlessly from where the Cravs left off 30 odd years ago, with a blistering sound as temporally unclassifiable in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. And so, ladybugs and gentleflies, they were back.
And now in 2017 they bring us a new album ‘Dustbin of Sound’, a work whose strangeness and charm seem once again exempt from shelf life.
‘King of Walking Away’ (the intro to which is pleasingly reminiscent of John Coltrane’s ‘Acknowledgement’) operates as a lyrical and musical mission statement – angular, discordant, earnest yet playfully political, and dosed to the eyeballs with time-honoured Cravatian absurdism, which features beauteous head boy The Shend crooning what must be one of the lines of year: ‘when you bathe that desire I’m an electric fire balanced precariously on your porcelain rim’.
From here on, Shend and his crackpot company lead a stentorian charge through The House that Cravats Built – starting with a party in the parlour of the ‘Batterhouse’, then up the stairs to race around the mutated surf rock corridors of ‘Motorcycle Man’, ‘100 Percent’ and ‘Bury the Wild’, before pausing on a moonlit landing to observe an evil child pushing a naive parent down the stairs to the cuckoo strains of ‘Whooping Sirens’, saxes blazing all the while.
The rompingly sardonic ‘Hang Them’ and frenzied ‘Big Red Car’ segue beautifully into the album’s closer (and one of my personal favourites), ‘All U Bish Dumpers’, which finds The Cravats’ Dadaist preposterousness in full flight (‘the squirrel’s role was to goad idiots toward an unidentified trestle montage’).
A friend of mine who was lucky enough to experience the Cravs in concert several times during the early 80s once put their lack of broader appeal down to the fact that they were ‘too punk for the new wave crowd and too new wave for the punk crowd’. One would like to think that these days the two are far from mutually exclusive, and that cross-pollinators in a class of their own like The Cravats would now receive the adoration they so deserve – though if they don’t, I doubt it will matter to them very much.
Some are made for the margins, and that is why these fine gentlemen of the squonky cloth remain as timeless, savage and brilliant as ever.
Now tie a Cravat about your scrawny neck and feel it constrict until you’re forced into a hangman’s dance in the Dustbin of Sound. You just might enjoy it.