This is a Romantic record. Romantic not in the Michael Bublé sense – more on a nineteenth-century Blakean, Byronic kind of vibe. We’re talking vivid exposition. We’re talking melancholy themes of isolation. Searing critiques of modernity. Romanticism – go on, you remember school – is what Cockerel has, in spades.
Gabi Garbutt and the Illuminations – on their second LP and crushing it thanks to enthusiastic boosting from Steve Lamacq and Cerys Matthews – have honed their literary-punk schtick until it's sharp as a blade. And from the LP’s opening enfilade of snare cracks onward, the band’s hurly-burly brass-and-guitar rhythm backdrops lyrics so lush they might've been wrought from the quill of a syphilitic dandy two hundred years ago.
’Look up at that clock tower / See how it chimes away / All these obsolete ideas / About how we move through the day’ trills Gabi on ‘Genet’s Journey’, referencing Jean Genet, an itinerant vagabond and poet of the sort those Romantics bloody lapped up. David Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’ is about him too, don't you know.
A picaresque supporting cast tumble from the speakers thick and fast. Robert Quine and Van Gogh get a shoutout apiece on ‘Never Never’. The utterly gorgeous and deeply moving ‘Your Blues’ is, apparently, a love letter to Blake himself – with a chorus hardcore stans will recollect from Gabi’s formative days singing her truth around the boozers of Camden.
It’s not all brassy stomping and dusty tomes. Hell no. At the halfway mark ‘I Can’t Win’ is a faintly electronic-sounding upper-mid-tempo emotional smoothie that wouldn’t sound amiss on a Self Esteem record. ‘Habit Of Sadness’ wears its melancholy lightly, pulling off that nifty Ezra Furman trick of alchemising internal strife into uncanny pop.
But on thoughtful closer ‘Our Dying World’, Gabi returns to her number one favourite subject, birds. Honestly, please join in my drinking game, where every time she brings up birds you neck a shot. Anyway, these birds in particular, off ‘Our Dying World’, are baffled by the streetlamps outside our heroine’s window and ‘…so unwound from nature / they sing through the night.’
It’s about mankind’s ugly dominion over nature, you see, rendered in exquisitely beautiful poetry. ROMANTIC. AS. FUCK. And, sure, a wake-up call. The record is literally named Cockerel.
Words: Andy Hill
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