The songs on this album have legs. As soon as the needle dropped, out they pounced one after another. For me, it’s a welcome return to form. For all of its strengths, The Wave Pictures’ last release City Forgiveness (not counting their excellent collaboration with Stanley Brinks), which totalled 20 songs split over two LPs, was somewhat laboured. On Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon, the band in collaboration with musician, poet and artist Billy Childish pare it down to a lucky 13 – eleven original and two Creedance covers and get to the brash and energetic point.
The first three songs are killers. The sound is tight and spiky; the lyrics revel in a mix of the whimsical and everyday. It’s impossible to say what influence Childish had on the song-writing, (he shares writing credit with David Tattersall), but he quirky tales of the ordinary life turned upside down have a more surreal twist.
Burnt toast, molehills, clockwork and seaweed, nights spent in a sleeping bag with a disruptive telephone appear in the opening tracks, all precisely rendered. The observant tone doesn’t get in the way of the linguistic inventiveness, such as: “the wind ruined up the pumpkin patch” and “sugar soaked ant in the sun”, from the first single “I Could Hear the Telephone (3 Phones Above Me)” or “tippy in your hair” and ” I mole you a spring wish in a railroad” from the third song “Katie”. And of course there is the twisted word collage of the album’s title and opening song “Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon” – I have no idea what it is but I am intrigued and frightened in equal parts.
The riff heavy style persists over most of the album including the two Creedance Clearwater Revival songs “Sinister Purpose” and “Green River” which form the album’s rootsy nucleus. But while Fogerty and co. exuded bayou languor, Tattersall and the boys open up the flood.
The torrent is especially evident on the sixth track “Frogs Sing Loudly in the Ditches” where the album’s musical and lyrical strengths come together.
“a doorframe takes shape
and there’s a room beyond the doorframe
above the doorframe written a terrible warning
I knew I should have had the third cup of coffee this morning”
Alone, the lyric has the perfect sparseness of an imagist poem but the song itself is far from mannered. The band careen out of the speakers which may be in part to Billy Childish handling the lead guitar duties. The playing is loose, furious and loud, a streaming sludge of chords, threatening to swamp Tattersall’s vocals, who all the time manages to keep the simple tale of torpor pointedly personal.
Not all the album’s strong points are necessarily rockers. The wonderfully titled “All the Birds Lined Up Dot Dot Dot” is a gentle meditation on a relationship. Minutiae and quotidian details are celebrated for what they mean to a couple from the “stilted way” the addressee acts when shy to the sight of the clothesline where the birds are lined up “dot dot dot”.
Given the change in guitar sound Childish has brought, some mention of Tattersall’s style is warranted. I’ve read a few dismissive remarks in reviews, in which the reviewer has dismissed his style as “showboating” or “appear[ing] at nearly the same point at every track”. Tattersall’s crime appears to be not only can he play, but he plays with exuberance. Those who like their playing less clean may want to check out this album if they find competence too unappealing or uncool.
Though after more than a dozen albums, I doubt The Wave Pictures care too much about winning people over. The temporary (though I hope permanent or at least recurring) addition of artistic outlaw Billy Childish to the ranks seems to confirm this suspicion. Perhaps more people will be turned on. If not, I’m sure the band will continue to make humane, intelligent and artful guitar music, dot dot dot.