Artist: Trash Can Sinatras Release Date: May 1993
Label: Go! Discs Ltd. Running time: 44m 26s
David Hughes - Vocals
Nick Ingham - Strings
Paul Livingston - Vocals
Frank Reader - Vocals
Larry Primrose - Piano, Bongos
Allison Thomson - Trumpet
Arranged, Engineered & Produced by Ray Shulman & Nick Ingham (did the Manics as well)
All songs © I Hate Music Co., 1993
Musical Context :
Indie music from the Scots ~ right, Looper? Belle and Sebastian? Arab Strap? Sure, but how about a previous generation? Nothing leaping to mind? Fear not: enter the Trash Can Sinatras. Founded round and about Glasgow in 1986 by Frank Reader1 and Paul Livingston. As twee record store lads, the lot, they first formed as a cover band (most VU) and were performing in a local pub when a Go! Discs rep picked up their tab. Their first single Obscurity Knocks (evocative of Scots like Aztec Camera or Orange Juice) hit stores in 1990 and immediately rallied enthusiasm at home & abroad. Their debut LP Cake soon followed and became a particular favorite on college radio. However, the musical landscape shifted fairly radically in the intervening years. Their follow-up I've Seen Everything appeared in 1993 ~ but you’d hardly have known it for the grunge ~ and subsequently the Kilmarnock kids were wholly forgotten (bad for them, kind of nice for their fans). The Go! Discs label promptly withdrew all favors and subsequently their 1996 LP A Happy Pocket (critically slagged for their use of the dulcimer and cover of To Sir, With Love?) was only available by import in North America. A new single, "Snow," followed in late 1999, which appears to be steering roughly into Tindersticks/Arab Strap territory.2
Does it rock? Can I put it on at a party?
As jangly, symphonic pop records go, I will attest right now, they simply don't come much better than this album. While fans of their swirly, engineered sound on Cake may have at first felt a bit slighted3, this effort is a more mature and seasoned effort by far.4 Another thing, and it's tricky to gaugue how you feel about this or if it even merits mentioning, but I think I know why it's such a good album to 'kick back' with. These are guys with day jobs (one owns a record store) who clearly know what it's like to come home after a rough week, and not want to hear some long-winded illbient/prog-rock nonsense or some such unwieldily drek. You would prefer some honest, experiential unwinding songs, which I believe these to be. It is a stunningly rich recording.
What’s it sound like though?
Like all the truly great, misanthropic ditties of The Beautiful South or Prefab Sprout, there exists a certain disconnect between the tuneful sweetness of the music on this record and the genial but resigned bitterness of their lyrics. As with all artists of that ilk, his will forever serve to put a certain class of listener off, especially those unaccustomed to the concepts behind a wry, tongue in cheek, non-sentimental ethos towards songwriting. That said however, it’s the musicianship on this album that sets it so far afield from the rest of that summer’s offerings. Guitar hooks inspired by Johnny Marr tied to lines like “We are not Jack & Hill / why do you tumble after me?” or “arsenic be judge, gin be jury” or “every actor hides a heckle, doctor hides a jeckyl.” There is some inspired balladeering on this record though, painted with subtle, never soppy strokes, and polished to a gleam with contrasting guitar-rock outs, over the top string sections and acoustic hooks aplenty.
Say, for the sake of argument, I love the record? What else might I try?
If this one tickles your ear : then I think you need to get out for some early Prefab Sprout (Steve McQueen) or mid-career House of Love (Butterfly) or James' Laid ~ plus their two other records if you can pick them us. All of these records, I’d argue, have a similar underlying melodic thread linking them together. Oh, and Guy Chadwick’s solo record (1998) if you come it. You can also sample their material (esp. live or out takes) from their site : http://www.trashcansinatras.com/downloads.shtml . The quality of the recordings is uneven, especially the tracks from their first 1993 US tour, recorded after Cake ~ but their How Can I Apply, I’ve Seen Everything or the acoustic version of Obscurity Knocks are stellar examples of how well they hold up live.
1. Easy Read - 2:55 ~How can you not love an album that opens with a short melodic dirge about rescuing a pal from an awful bar he’s too pooped to leave? Especially with lines like “tis harder not to drown / when the biggest trade on this earth is lost and found”
2. Hayfever - 3:09 ~ The accompanying strings, the bells, piano & clapping, the almost whispered, then almost shouted chorus, marks an-almost symphonic pop song that’s up there with moments on Ocean Rain, except with tambourines ~
3. Bloodrush - 3:22 ~ a rollicking Gaelic cartwheel ~
4. Worked a Miracle - 3:14 ~ A slow, echoing acoustic ballad that breaks up two minutes in, becoming a resounding, plaintive anthem that pulls itself up by the guitar licks ~
5. The Perfect Reminder - 1:04 ~Whispered poetic interlude- “ i forget the conversation we had/
i don't remember what you said or did/
that made you so attractive”
6. Killing the Cabinet - 2:43 ~ ~
7. Orange Fell - 4:07 ~ a pitch-perfect ‘we’re piss-poor but don’t care’ love song that bounds along through the snow on hooky acoustics - “all our love was made on sheets we'd left unmade~
8. I'm Immortal - 3:53 ~ another swooning ballad of adoration that cribs footie motifs to deliver an elevating rhythm - “I took a kick in the confidence, down in the tackle i hurt / I took a shine to your big size tens
now all around the subject I skirt.”
9. Send for Henny - 3:16 ~ fantastically warm and rattling little 3min make-up song - “our love becomes this useless box of tricks” - though I’ve to admit I’ve no clue what henny is supposed to be and the song placement seems daft considering the next song’s chill quiet ~
10. Iceberg - 1:23 ~ Just voices and guitar in an oddly claustrophobic lament- “matches tobacco, turn ashwarm and charcoal” ~
11. One at a Time - 3:46 ~ uproarious crashing guitars as aggro as anything on the first side of The Bends - “step out of line and I'll take you out / I’m harder than times, I'm tougher than luck”
12. I've Seen Everything - 4:02 ~If you’ve ever walked back into your hometown after a long time away, and found things not quite the same, felt things had shifted from under your feet, and you knew it would never go back to the way it was - then you need to give this one a listen. It pretty much makes the band for me on just that - “the last three cheers, we're shaking the bottle/
pull the cork on us, there is no tomorrow/no yesterday and we won't be sorry/
we knew all along that we'd never matter” ~
13. The Hairy Years - 2:49 ~ Mature, ale-soaked sing-song ballad that starts out brilliantly5 with flinching tourist baubles and ends up wrecked in the local pub years many wasted years later - “I lingered within earshot of the seaside souvenir shopfront /
itchy fingers sweating on a snow scene, little puppy eyes dart ~
14. Earlies - 4:44 ~ A picture-perfect nostalgic about the immemorial but unenviable fate of many young Scots, that is, going to work down South - “cakebrick road in summer 1981, we shared a house and garden / at the height of all the bombing, on the run in busy, hazy london”
1 The brother of ex-Fairground Attraction singer Eddi Reader.
2 Slow, broody heart-broken ballad with wintery Hammond organ backing?
3 That tinge of resentful anxiety, when a fave band abruptly packs up and moves on, without notice or warning, to a entirely different sound from the one you've been hooked on, only to leave you wondering, if only for a second, what it was you did to merit such cruel treatment & rejection ~ you've never felt that? Hm. Sure. Anyway, John Leckie was largely the reason Cake sounded as lush as it did - he’s worked with XTC, Simple Minds, The Fall and Robyn Hitchcock’s as well as doing Ride’s Nowhere and The Stone Roses debut - he’s also Radiohead’s fave studio guy.
4 Alternative Press (8/93, p.91) said it was "so far better than anything the Trash Can Sinatras have done before, it elevates all their previous work." Strike previous, and you’ve got it about right.
5 Also brill for its nod to Ian and Co. with the line “take me intravenously.” Not sure if that’s a slag or not.
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