Rob Jones, aka the Voluntary Butler Scheme, is one of the UK’s most inventive, most eccentric musicians, in the mould of Ray Davis, Damon Albarn and Neil Innes. He should be nurtured and his talent should be allowed to grow. It is therefore with a very heavy heart that we find ourselves unable to recommend The Grandad Galaxy, the follow up to his excellent 2009 debut At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea.
To be blunt as an album it’s a bit of a dud. It’s got two stand out songs in ‘Do the Hand Jive’ and ‘To the Height of a Frisbee’. In fact they are possibly two of the finest tracks by a UK artist this year. But across the other 13 the majority are dull, mainly instrumental, fillers or lacklustre melancholy pop ballads.
The problem is that Jones has forgotten what makes him and made At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea so good. He is a master of the pop song, can create an original, catchy melody at will and has a fine ear for timeless production. He’s a fun guy as well, but you’d never guess it on this album.
This is such a shame as he had built up a considerable amount of credit in the review bank following his debut, which from ‘Trading Things In’ to ‘Multiplayer’ to ‘Tabasco Sole’, was part Kinks, part indie pop, part mainstream chart music, part Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and teaming with great, potential singles. Even the fillers like the 40-second ‘Dancing With Ted Danson’ were great (listen to this and imagine Ted Danson dancing and we challenge you not to at least smile).
With The Grandad Galaxy he’s sought to create a similar running theme of timelessness but using less accessible sounds. Using a mixture of old 1940s recording techniques, 1960s pop and 1990s ambient dance music, most notably the Orb on ‘Sky Shed’, it sounds like a wartime wireless that’s been shot into space and then retrieved from the ocean depths where it fell back to earth. The only problem is that a soggy wireless is not a pleasant listen, even if it has had an adventure on the way.
This makes the two standout tracks ‘Do the Hand Jive’, with superb vocal effects and harmonica and ‘To the height of the Frisbee’ with its 1960s northern soul feel, so remarkable. I’d have liked to have heard more like this. As At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea shows he’s more than capable of producing an album full of great tracks.
‘Don’t Rely on it, Don’t Count on it’ and ‘Shake Me By the shoulders’ are the nearest to these two tracks, but lack the inventiveness and sense of fun that I know Jones is capable of.
For us it’s time to move on from this mess, have one final listen to ‘To the Height of the Frisbee’ and hope that Jones returns to form for album number three.
by Joe Lepper