Hieronymus Bosch -- a name guaranteed to take
me back to my youth. No, I'm not old enough to remember the
renaissance artist (who was called, "discoverer of the
unconscious" by Carl Gustav Jung!) as that artist died
in 1516, and I was only eight then.
No, I'm talking about the seventies UK band of the same name, who, likes lots
of other Brit-prog bands on the verge at the time of the punk
explosion, saw their career finished by the arrival of a certain
Mr. Rotten. Sure, they tried to beef up their sound accordingly,
but even their vaguely new wave-ish 45 was titled Rockin'
Rachmaninov. They might have dropped that 'g' from 'Rocking",
but they weren't fooling anybody. The Pistols and The Clash
were singing about Anarchy and being Bored of the USA, and name-dropping
classical composers just wasn't on the agenda, and neither were
the twiddly bits that remained. Living proof, I suppose, that
you can take the band out of the prog scene, but you can't take
the prog scene out of the band.
Not that this Hieronymus Bosch have this problem. There might be something inherently old-fashioned about this New York combo's sound, but thankfully there aren't any extended guitar solos on their 25 minute debut. And when these guys drop their 'g's they mean business; they've lost two in the album's title alone!
In fact, I'd wager that their idea of a classical album is the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. A surf sound, which was as integral to Tarantino's classic movie as his famous snappy dialogue, is all over the excellent opening instrumental Borg Warner, Four-on-the-Floor. But Matthew Harrison plays those nifty surf licks over a punk-like assault -- it's like Dick Dale plays Damned Damned Damned.
Strangely enough, The Damned also spring to mind on the next track, Metronome, with its New Rose-like riff and Rat Scabies "I'm-gonna-hit-every-piece-of-my-kit-in-the-next-ten-seconds" approach to drumming. Credit is certainly due to Robert Holt Richardson, the 'percussionist extraordinaire' (as the sleeve notes so modestly read), since he's a one-man powerhouse.
The Beatles-ish Worst Thing, the poppiest track on the album, follows. Whilst it's certainly a catchy number with a tasty McCartney-like bassline from Anthony Pei, the downside to this more melodic approach is that it reveals Harrison's limited stylistic range as a vocalist. As an example, although I love Lou Reed's monotone style on Heroin, I'm not sure it would sound quite as effective on We Can Work It Out .
Still, it's soon back to business. 1776 features a B-52's-like riff and rousing chorus, whilst The Movie Director has some great thrashy guitar work that brings to mind The Buzzcocks' Fast Cars, with added thundering drums from that man Richardson again.
Timetables is a bit lightweight to be honest, but Love Is Just A Cloud is much better, with another Buzzcocks-like riff and a storming chorus about love not being the answer. The best track, however, is saved for last. Underground is excellent, even if the chord sequence may be of interest to Ringo Starr's lawyers as it's exactly like Back Off Boogaloo. Actually, Harrison (Matthew, not George) really goes for it on this track, as he rants about going underground because there's nothing for him here. Admittedly, it's not quite as memorable as Ringo's bellowed "Wake up meathead", but there's some fine angular guitar lines, followed by a few nice subtle touches as the track quietly draws to a close. All in all, a great way to end a really promising debut.
Hieronymus Bosch aren't going to change the world. I'm certainly doubtful as to whether they'll ever be, ahem, 'discoverers of the unconscious'. But to quote the album's title, they're Havin' Fun and Soundin' Good, and sometimes that's enough. And, as I'm sitting here in Wales on yet another rainy day, the only thing stopping me going to see them live, where I imagine they really cut it, is that small matter of the Atlantic Ocean!