The fairly lacklustre performance of The Streets' Everything Is Borrowed last year perhaps suggests that the hip-pop street-philosopher style may have just about run its course, which would be a shame for Jack Allsopp, who with All Night Cinema has made a quantum leap beyond his previous releases.
As the title suggests, Just Jack still deals in little mini-dramas, with another anthology of scenarios drawn from memory and imagination, bristling with the kind of details that bring them vividly to life, and boasting the kind of psychological sharpness that rings all too brutally true. Take the protagonist of "253", analysing his guilt over a dumped girlfriend on the bus home: "She had nothing that I needed, so over the years, the love receded". Ouch! Or check the way Jack's account of a street stabbing and its aftermath reflects the blasé attitude of the narrator, their attention drawn from the bloody body to the girl hanging out her washing nearby, especially the "red g-string with the words 'I'm So Horny'". It's not just in the demotic details that the story resides, but also in the way that the story is told – and it's to this latter aspect that the mournful cello lends its poignance.
Something similar occurs at the end of "Astronaut", where over staccato guitar and skittish drums smoothed out by strings, Jack depicts a "sofa surfer" whose debts, porn habit and dope-fuelled low ambition leave him with nothing to look forward to once his girlfriend leaves. As the end of the song looms nearer, Allsopp repeats over and over the lines "Something's supposed to happen, man, before the fade-out/ But life goes on, it will be played out", effectively leaving the central character stuck in stasis. It's as if the story itself is turning on its protagonist, leaving him dangling until he figures out what to do. Pirandellian, some might call it.
The characters are a fairly familiar cast of low-lifes, losers and outsiders, but usually given an extra twist, like the lonely subject of "Goth in the Disco", fantasising arson as she dances ("She hates all the music, can't stand the lights/ But there's nothing else to do on a Saturday night"), or the narrator of "The Day I Died", his senses blissfully heightened even as he's run over by a taxi: "There's something about the city today/ The colours all conspire to overwhelm the grey". That's just one of a string of images that burst through these songs with a vivid, passionate originality that matches the impressive, fresh arrangements via which Jack's tales are so deftly animated, none more dazzling than the blend of staccato strings, soukous guitar and double-time handclaps surging behind Allsopp's layered, round-like vocal on "Embers". In his hands, the street still furnishes a wealth of inspiring parables.
Download this: Embers, Blood, The Day I Died, 253, Astronaut