THE THING ABOUT WOMEN - Brian Henry Hooper (Bang! Records)
It took two years for this baby to make it out into the real world but it was worth the long gestation. Where its predecessor was a divergent collection stylistically, this has a more consistent sound that relies heavily on Brian Hooper's acoustic guitar and pianist Steve Boyle's keys.
"The Thing..." is the second proper solo album for Brian Hooper (third if you count the sleaze garage-lounge cool of "The Voyeurs") and he's signed an all-star cast including Bad Seed Mick Harvey (bass), Blackeyed Susans guitarist Dan Luscombe and longtime Beasts of Bourbon (R.I.P.) bandmates Spencer P Jones (guitar) and Tony Pola (drums.)
There are no outright rockers in the collection - they're mostly bluesy ballads and the closest "The Thing..." gets to up tempo is "Drug Day", a tale of gentle resignation. Producer Skritch has done a fine job of imparting a late night, intimate feel that suits the introspection of the songs. It's more about textured sounds than aural assault - and sometimes that works just as well. The playing is first-class with a real ensemble feel.
Lyrically, I'm not going to suggest from where these tales of lost love, brooding and looming or realised tragedy come from, but the obvious take-out that they're all deeply personal which makes them all the more powerful. You can soak up the lyrics from the attached booklet.
For a guitarist-turned-bass player who scarcely crooned a backing vocal for 20 years, Hooper nails the vocal part throughout and isn't afraid to take on the challenges that a song like "Just Cause You Wish It" presents.
Opener "Oh Brother" is reprised from "Lemon Lime & Bitter" and is more fleshed-out this time around. "Again and Again" is a slow build, a tale of diminished power or a one-way relationship that eventually throws the guitars into sharper relief. Of the 11 tracks, "Drug Day" and "I Walked You Home" are my stand-outs, the latter's layered starkness contrasted against sweetly buzzing guitars and piano accordion.
Shades of Neil Young's "On The Beach" - and that's not praise lightly given. – The Barman
LEMON, LIME & BITTER – Brian Henry Hooper (Bang! Records/Blackbox Records)
With emphasis on the “bitter”, the ex-Surrealist and current Beasts of Bourbon member delivers a killer debut album. This CD drips sardonic bile. It contains serious venting. It’s like Hooper woke up one morning with an STD and the mother of all hangovers after being forced to sleep on the wet patch, and then found out the girl he picked up had shot through, killing the cat, making off with his life savings and stash, and shitting in the fridge. Plus, she left the toilet seat up. Bitch.
This is seriously pissed off stuff and it’s great to see it finally out after living with a rough, pre-release copy for half of 2005. Principal label Bang Records are from Spain and never do things by halves. There are 16 songs (a double LP, in vinyl terms) in a gatefold digipak, all nicely mastered. Who said CDs shouldn’t be treated with due deference?
The heart of the matter is the songs, of course, and Hooper has tunes all the way up the ass, as the Americans like to say. All but one are originals (can’t place “I Never Wanted”, the sole cover) and they’re deeply personal - as the best songs usually are. “I’m Not the One You Want”, “I Ain’t Never (Seen You Look So Bad)”, “What Can I Say Dear?” and “All the Times We Spent (In Bed Together)” are as raw as a skateboarder’s back after a slide down 50 metres of steep bitumen, except Hooper’s wounds are mostly emotional.
Mostly. There’s also the small issue of a broken back, suffered in a balcony fall a few years ago, and it’s a major revelation seeing the guy walking, even with the aid of a stick. These songs were apparently penned before and after that cataclysmic event, with a busted marriage and a descent into, and out of, drug addiction thrown in there as well. So see how all that stacks up against the experience of your average “Idol” or “Popstars” winner…
As might be expected, a fair bit of Kim Salmon has rubbed off Hooper. They might be estranged, but on the face of it, “Lemon, Lime & Bitter” has similar expansive intent and rawness that’s been a hallmark of Salmon’s louder output. Like a stripped-bask Surrealists or mid-period Bad Seeds, Hooper and band know the value of using dynamics.
No point going into the more extreme lyrical moments (it’d spoil the surprise) but some of the diatribes would have done late ‘60s Dylan proud. His Bobness is still to unleash a cover of Hooper’s “Motherfucking Motherfucker” but there’s still time.
A bassist in the Beasts, Hooper reverts to the instrument of his youth (that’d be guitar) and indulges his vocals as he sees fit, ranging from a menacing growl to fractured falsetto.
It’s the debut album, as such, because it’s out under his name, but you could do worse than also grab a copy of “The Voyeurs” by the Hooper-assembled band of the same name (also on Bang! Records). That album has the ambience of a night bender in the sleaziest of red light district lounge bars, while “Lemon, Lime & Bitter” is the harsh glare of the day after.
All things said and done, this is a mightily impressive album that neatly exposes its nerve endings but avoids being over-wrought. By all accounts, Hooper pulled through all his turmoil with a resilent determination and a huge dollop of his own black humour (check out his website and you'll see what I mean), so I guess the music is cathartic in a sense. You will buy this album, if only to avoid Brian Henry Hooper writing a song about you. – The Barman
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