Big Special – Post Industrial Hometown Blues

A vital, gripping debut album...

Big Special were always going to give value for money on their debut album. ‘Post Industrial Hometown Blues’ includes a whopping 15 tracks including all of the duo’s singles released to date – it’s evident, then, that this attitude is embedded within the very fabric of the band.

Album opener ‘Black Country Gothic’ is a joyous ode to their birthplace. Dancing synths and an infectious beat welcomes us into their world. An uplifting stomp it also introduces the duality of Joe Hicklin’s vocal, one minute spoken word with lyrics heavy with meaning and passion, the next soaring and soulful. ‘I Mock Joggers’ presents another facet of Big Special, their humour. At times self-deprecating their songs share a vulnerability “I mock joggers because I’m insecure about my weight.  I should be out running but I’m always running away or running late.”  

A trio of singles follow: ‘Desperate Breakfast’, ‘Shithouse’, and ‘This Here Ain’t Water’ the latter arguably the most important track in their history as it swayed drummer Callum Moloney to join Hicklin to create Big Special. The pounding of the drums provides an ominous beat throughout, perhaps emulating trudging through the daily grind. There is an element of the blues here in its pace and content. A striking track which still hits hard almost a year after its original release.

‘My Shape (Blocking the Light)’ takes a bleaker turn. The spoken word full of distortion speaks of a personal vulnerability. An honest raw picture of depression where one beats up oneself with internal negativity. There is a roots vibe here with the pipe in the background and reference to “a whole year without a day’s work.  I cannot be just a number again”. Big Special acknowledge the societal shifts brought about by the powers that be who wallow in their own self-interests. 

The theme continues on ‘Black Dog / White House’ dramatic and thought-provoking, juxta positioning depression named as Black Dog with the hope and freedom of White Horse. Rhythmically the pace reflects a chain gang or the hits of a blacksmith, laboured and constant. ‘Broadcast: Time Away’ opens with twitchy static as if stricken with anxiety. And yet it grows in its hope for the future as it progresses. ‘iLL’ showcases Hicklins vocal range with joyous results, the lyrics dance around at his command, the delivery impassioned and fervent where required and yet soulful and heartfelt a moment later. ‘Mongrel’ stops the listener in their tracks with its delivery. Urgent and impassioned, Hicklin spits out the words with disdain. The tension slowly builds, the drama and passion growing with every passing second. 

‘Butcher’s Bin’ shifts the pace, with a dance beat throughout and a more measured delivery moving into current single ‘Dust Off / Start Again’. The rhythm throughout is reminiscent of a chain gang march, and the swing between the vocal styles is gut-wrenching. Thematically the song states the mental health impact of failed government policy on a generation.  It acknowledges that there should always be hope of starting again after a fall, but also states that life shouldn’t be a cycle of building yourself up only to be knocked down again. “Don’t die lad, I need you in on Monday…” This sense of defiance continues with ‘Trees’. Opening with a pumping beat, the combined vocals provide almost a sense of community and that “Pa Pa Pa Pa Pa Pow” grows in intensity and passion.  By the end the cry of “No peace, No peace” is so emotional.  

In stark contrast, ‘For the Birds’ is a short haunting spoken word piece which opens with a return of that anxiety inducing static. “We were supposed to be young, half cut and completely severed.” The play on words throughout is poignant and gripping. Big Special close out ‘Postindustrial Hometown Blues’ with ‘DiG!’ creating a sense of hope, uplifting and glorious it appears to show two fingers to the powers that be. Don’t let the bastards get you down is the message, stirring and rousing this is a goosebump inducing end to the album.   

Big Special do not set out to provide any answers to the complexity of contemporary life, the antics of politicians and the impact of capitalism on communities. However they recognise the impact of these on society as a whole, on community and the individual. In ‘Postindustrial Hometown Blues’ they tell their story, but it’s a universal one. The sense of joy in using lyrics to express emotions is palpable, as is their humour. The duo use their musicality, shifting between soul and blues, punk and passion. They have given their all in the creation of their debut album, and we are so grateful for it.

8/10

Words: Julia Mason

Related: In Conversation – Big Special

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