By Daniel Cairns
If you ever look up the word underrated in the dictionary, chances are you’ll get a massive picture of Stephen Jones, the man who basically is Babybird.
You see, there are two types of people who know of him. There are the myriad mid nineties refugees who know him because of You’re Gorgeous, a song that makes perfect sense in the context of its parent album Ugly Beautiful, but has been employed in a non ironic capacity by dunderheads for years, as they try and latch onto the days where they still had hair, and Chris Evans was EVERYWHERE. Then there’s the other type. The type that know he’s been around for years, and also know that he’s basically one of the most consistently excellent songwriters in Britain… nay, the universe.
And now we have a new album, called Ex Maniac. And naturally, it’s great.
It opens with a sprightly song about the state of the nation called Like Them. Oh, and the best opening lyric ever. ‘I will kill you, said the 5 year old,’ Jones softly croons over a melody so sweet that you’d think Gary Barlow had authored it.
I’m not kidding. What we have here is an album with some of the catchiest melodies this side of a Take That record (believe me when I say I think that is a good thing). Perverse bugger that he is though, Jones marries the jaunty melodies with pitch black tales of moral decline, doomed romance, drug abuse and surviving suicide. In a way, he’s comparable to Mark E Everett of the Eels who also employs sadness and chirpiness in equal measure, although Jones could fart into a four track and make it sound better than Eels.
Ex Maniac is stuffed to its ritalin-fuelled guts with songs that should be in the top 10. It’s largely bereft of the experimentation that Jones occasionally dabbles in, and instead overloads the listener’s head with great big shimmering pop epics. Initial highlights include Drug Time, Failed Suicide Club and Black Flowers. I’ve not even mentioned Unloveable yet have I? Basically, it’s probably the best song ever. I’m being serious. Look, the video for it is on this page. Go watch it. It’s ok, I can wait a few minutes… done? See, it’s amazing isn’t it? It builds and builds and builds to the most spine tingling crescendo ever. It’s the kind of thing all those rubbish post rock bands have been trying to do, only Jones has been smart enough to stick it in a gorgeous four minute pop song. Actually sod it, I’m going to watch it now. Give us a sec…
Maybe it’s his blackly humourous cynicism that’s kept Jones at the fringe of the mainstream, but that’s also what makes him so special. Something as considered and delicate as Unloveable (which features guest guitars from some chap called Jonny Depp who’s quite famous apparently) would be spoiled if some mouth breather like Chris Moyles played it daily to Mondeo owners around the country.
Having said that though, the man’s clearly overdue major success, which puts his diehard devotees (plonkers like myself) in a difficult position. His music clearly goes over the heads of the average eejit. Snobby as that sounds, it’s true. Witness the goons that completely misinterpreted You’re Gorgeous, employing it as an awful soundtrack to their doubtless miserable, loveless trysts. Actually it’s appropriate when you think about it like that. However, if he achieved mega-success again, he’d lose the exclusivity which endears him to music snobs (again, plonkers like myself). It’s a hell of a dichotomy.
When all is said and done, Ex Maniac is easily as strong as Jones’s other records (in time, it may come to depose 1998’s There’s Something Going On, which loyal followers of our splenetic twitter account will know I recently proclaimed my favourite album ever) and should sell an assload. It won’t though. Whatever. Ex Maniac will probably find itself perched atop my end of year list.
I’ll leave you with something Andi said to me, which basically sums up everything about Babybird.
I’ve said this before to you, but it is amazing how few people like him, and I cannot fathom why.