Sentimentalists are the very epitome of working class northern social commentary. Their latest album, KING JOE, continues on that theme. With its edgy (and occasionally bizarre) lyrics and catchy jazzy sound, this is an album that you have to concentrate on. Listen to the words and the message that the band are trying to get across and you will soon find yourself smiling at their wittiness or nodding your head in agreement.
Lead singer Phil Fowler cut his musical teeth in punk bands while in school, and his anti-establishment sentiment comes through many of the tracks on the album. The memorable and politically charged The Next Three Floors sees Fowler reflecting on the mood of many across the country: "I contemplate my strange set of affairs/ Having my pockets picked by millionaires/ I wonder, are those Bullingdon bastards still awake?/ scheming of how much I don't have they can take."
In Toilet Attendant, the story of a nightclub lavatory cleaner who has a job on the side selling ecstasy to the stars: "When she was in Leeds Alicia Keys bought E from me/ I didn't recognise her but I asked her to marry me." The odd lyrics and instrumentals almost sound like a drug trip in themselves. In The Take-outs, the band are joined by Maria Francis on vocals, and her and Fowler spend the entire song hurling insults at each other. It's the most up-tempo song on the album, again demonstrating the band's penchant for juxtaposing depressing topics with a catchy jazz sound.
That's not to say that they can't do subtle as well. The oddly moving I'm Lonely For Every Woman I've Ever Known and Old Sod are beautifully written and their slow tempo makes you contemplate the meaning even more.
The band's raw sound, and Fowler's unpolished vocals, add to the sense of realism. You can imagine them all sat round a table in a pub bemoaning their blighted lives of despair, sadness and loneliness. That said, the witty lyrics give a sense that things will get better..eventually.
An affection bruise of an album. A buzz combo, a brooding captivating presence. Ne'er-do-wells and elegant wastrels with no taste for fast pop, rapidly clocked, swiftly absorbed, abruptly administered in one-two punch form.
Instead, sentimentalists are lyric-driven, song led, with curlicues. Human tragic-comedy in a leisurely drift of distressed melancholy chamber-pop, investing flighty trifles with depth, gravitas and passion, verve with wit and subtext -plus perfect timing to tweak their tales.
Hard-observational musical narratives in Phil Fowler's voice, word-heavy short stories set to Daniel Bath's arrangements. Brechtian excerpts written "with a broken Biro on on a piece torn from a soggy cardboard box", about paths taken or not taken, juggling the affectionate punch with the abrasive; the tart edge with just the correct soupcon of reality.
Cultural references run from Ted Hughes, to Dionne Warwick to Bo Diddley's Pye 45rpm's, and quotably clever lines ('to save money on videos my x-ray eyes see through your clothes'). With piano, resonant double bass, and muted trumpet, 'Tobacco' even throws in a sly quote from a vintage TV cigar ad. A touch Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy, but with Yorkshire glottal stops, 'The Take-Outs' is a bitter Shane/Kirsty duet with Maria Francis sharing dialogue. Persuasively eloquent, evocative, and sometimes beautifully battered.
Yorkshire Evening Post
When a friend with impeccable musical taste thrust a CD in my hand and said; "I think you'll like this. It's different. And they're from Yorkshire." I knew it was worth a listen. King Joe by Sentimentalists went in the player on the long drive to work and I sat in the car park when I got there so I could hear it through to the end. It was worth being late for.
Like The Smiths and The Beautiful South, its 13 tracks are a perfectly mis-matched blend of edgy lyrics and upbeat melodies. I say lyrics, but this is poetry set to music and most of it tells stories of Northern working-class life with dollops of depression and poverty alleviated by wit and the Ariana String Quartet.
Lyrics include: "I contemplate my strange set of affairs, having my pockets picked by millionaires, I wonder, are those Bullington bastard still awake, scheming of how much I don't have they can take." Even better is track three, Old Sod, my favourite.
The words are written by Leeds-based Joe Sibmaud and Phil Fowler, from Castleford. The beautiful arrangements are by classical pianist Daniel Bath and lead vocals by Phil. 16 musicians, including the string quartet, play on the CD, and the line-up plus Phil's ability to perform have brought the sentimentalists rave reviews for their live performances. Mark Radcliffe and Andy Kershaw are fans. Radcliffe described their live show as "truly marvellous".
Press and internet review quotes from live shows: