Is Robert Rotifer indie’s first polymath? Ok, so he may not hold a pilot’s licence like rock polymath Bruce Dickinson or have a PHD in zoology like punk polymath Greg Graffin from Bad Religion. But being an artist, songwriter, journalist, broadcaster, festival curator and as his latest album shows a darn fine guitarist, Rotifer’s probably as close as the indie music scene will get to that lofty moniker.
Being in a band of guitarists certainly helps boost his playing credentials; Rotifer’s drummer Ian Button and bassist Mike Stone are better known as guitarists in Death in Vegas and Television Personalities respectively. Button is also something of a whizz with guitar effects and as a result Rotifer’s guitars sound sumptuous on this album.
There’s even guitar solos, a rock staple that indie acts like Rotifer usually shun. But those on The Cavalry Never Showed Up are no clichéd fret meanderings. On Middle Aged Man in particular the solo sounds gorgeous, nicely complimenting the melody, something that Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook does so well. November’s solo is another high point, packed full of vintage sheen.
But what really marks this album out is the lyrics on what is just about the most political album you will hear all year, except possibly for Robyn Hitchcock’s Love From London. And quite right too; there’s a lot to protest about in 2013, from increasing economic inequality, Tory lies about so-called scroungers and private firms being handed our schools on a plate as previous ministers did with our railways, but more of that later.
On I Just Couldn’t Eat (As Much As Id Like To Throw Up) Rotifer takes the role of narked, middle-aged, middle class left winger with aplomb, sitting at his kitchen table, sipping his morning coffee and despairing about the world’s injustices as he listens to BBC Radio 4 Today’s programme.
Then on The New Fares, the one about the UK government’s handing over of our trains to a private firms, the anger turns to sad resignation as helpless commuters are left with no alternative but to greet the new fares that go straight into the fat pockets of the likes of First Group.
But enough of the politics. There’s music as well to be had here and notably a significant change in style from Rotifer’s nostalgic last album, 2011’s The Hosting Couple, which focused on a childhood visit to 1980s Canvey Island.
Here there are still nods to vintage 1960s music and of lost bands from that era such as Unrelated Segments and The Misunderstood, particularly on the Underfunded of London. But on opening track I Just Couldn’t Eat…the way the guitars surge in after a minute is bang up to date.
Other tracks that demand a mention are the slower and actually quite beautiful Wear and Tear, which features Rotifer and Button’s local Salvation Army woodwind and brass band, recorded at St Mary Bredin Church, in Canterbury.
And then there’s Black Bag, where Robert Rotifer recounts an office clear out and laments whether he really needs any of the stuff he is keeping. Although placed early in the album it feels more like a classic track 6-7, nicely anchoring the album’s rageful start and calming ending. Black Bag is also fast becoming one of the band’s standout tracks live, and was one of their highlights when they headlined our Brighton October 2012 show.
Another reason why I’ve taken to this album so much is the lyrics on on From Now On There Is Only Love, which references childhood memories of similar political demonstrations I used to go on with my parents. This track is the antidote to the anger of I Just Couldn’t Eat… as Robert Rotifer recalls his childhood in Austria watching demonstrators burn effigies of Pinochet and innocently asking why there can’t be more compassion in the world, especially from so-called peaceful protestors ? A perfectly reasonable question both then and now.
By the end of the album I’m convinced I’ve heard one of the year’s best releases, but also left with the sad thought that the cavalry may never really show up to save our railways, political demonstrations and the blood pressure of indie polymaths listening to the Today programme.
by Joe Lepper