Babybird Ugly Beautiful Echo ECH CD11: Review

'An increased depth renders the songs more like collective notions than mad imaginings'

Another South Yorkshire sexual ironist to set alongside Jarvis, Babybird's Stephen Jones delves here into clefts and crannies most people would rather leave unprobed. Dizzy with the deceptive power of words, for instance, he never leaves a pun unspoken.

"I am beside myself when I'm inside you," he claims in "You & Me", and it could stand as a motto for the entire album.

Ugly Beautiful contains a plethora of responses to unbidden movements of the heart and groin, nearly all of them questionable yet true. Take the hit single "You're Gorgeous" - ostensibly a love ballad of warm togetherness, but, like REM's "The One I Love", actually carrying more sinister undercurrents. In this case, its the song's pitiable account of pornographic devotion - having ice-cubes rubbed on chests, being photographed with legs pulled apart on car bonnets, and being paid pounds 20 with vague promises of being seen in a magazine - all endured for infatuation's sake, because the snapper is so gorgeous.

Elsewhere, the absurdly convoluted rhymes of "Candy Girl" ("Are you Paris without snails? Are you the Red Lion without ales?") serve merely to set up the cheeky fellatio reference in the chorus, while the necrophiliac musings of "I Didn't Want To Wake You Up" are given greater urgency here, courtesy of confident drumming and an eerie string pad, than on Jones's solo version included on last year's Fatherhood album.

This is the most noticeable result of Jones's decision to re-record several of the songs from his four previous solo Baby Bird LPs with his new backing band, a durable group able to turn their hand to all manner of pop strategies, from the wistful Mediterranean MOR of "Bad Shave" to the trip-hop of "Atomic Soda". The improvements are significant. It's not just that the songs sound less like dashed-off demos - there is also an increased depth of musical character to them, which renders them more like collective notions rather than the mad imaginings of a marginalised loner.

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