This is a review of "Strike! Up the Band" recorded by The Scaramanga Six. The review was written by Sam Saunders in 2002.
Strike! Up the Band is a monster. The 13 songs, the two videos and the SIX SIX SIX count-in absolutely guarantee one hell of a good mood. Songs from "The Continuing Saga Of The Scaramanga Six" EP are all here, along with the single "You Do You Die" plus massive favourites from the live set.
The mood is grown up, aggressive, hyperventilated and steroid hungry. Steve Morricone's bass playing defines a relentless and disarmingly complex onslaught from start to finish. His voice takes all the high points, but his vocal henchpersons (Blood Brother Paul and Sister in Wrath Julia Arnez) scatter it about with dangerous unpredictability. The Six can hit you from anywhere.
After three murderous frontal assaults "The Wrath of the Mighty", "Pressure Cage" and "You Do You Die", a lilting Country and Kinks number looms up in leery post gig mood. "Bane of My Life", grunts with bass sax and rings with bright guitars. Don't get too smug though, it soon reveals its sharp teeth and its disrespect for the witless neo-human males among us. "I never loved you ... you're just a punch bag ..." This is dark stuff.
"Elemental" in the fifth slot is a scary thriller soundtrack. There's a great sense of adventure in the vocal harmonies and a huge guitar breaks through at just the right dramatic moment first with big chords and then with a searingly good single line. Keyboard backdrops and fills complete the very tasty production. The album is really warming up. "Face is on fire", he's singing and a rasping, humming guitar noise excoriates the ears and the psyche.
Tired yet? Hey, here comes the Best of Sweet and Mud, with a Suzi Quattro inspired "Too Cool for Skool" with totally hip guitar and bass parts and the very sweetest organ. This just makes me grin like crazy. The Six are stark staring bonkers.
Space rock scorches out next to rescue us from the Glam wreckage. "Rush of Blood" shows how messy your sound can get without losing it completely. There's a song in there, but it's getting the beating of its life. It's utterly redeemed by Steve's Mighty Bass Line. A sleeve note warns us "The legendary Bill Bailey plays lead guitar on "Rush of Blood" and is also responsible for why the track sounds so fucked up". Honest, if not grammatical.
"Stray Dog" is in something like Dave Cooke territory. But whenever the tune should go into sweet clear air, this one swerves off into something more painful and demanding. It holds the centre of the album with integrity, long enough for the drama of "Big in Small Town" to smash through as another shock to the system. The Six's trade mark bass and guitar unison is used to great effect and Julia's harmony adds sharp menace to the vocal line. The five note phrase of the title repeats mantra-like as the production rises and falls.
"Grasp the Candle" seems to come in right where "Big ...." leaves off with a fierce scream and some fat guitar. But there's a remarkable change at bar 7 and we're off on a demented journey through New York doo wap greased back punky syncopation. This is a fantastic track. Beefheart meets the Tom Tom Club, with Dion and the Belmonts getting into narcotics abuse. Steven Malkmus is in there too, in one steamingly bad mood.
And then, oh joy! The first twelve bars of "The Continuing Saga of the Scaramanga Six" are so euphorically fine that it takes me right back to all those great moments of pop heaven when we were young enough to think it could save our souls. So simple you might miss it. But it's echo is there through the whole verse and it comes in just enough times to lift the mood and leave you wanting it back on again as soon as it's finished. This is the stuff!
"The Lingering Death of the Scaramanga Six" follows as if a concept album were in the making. Don't be silly. This is the Scaramanga Six and we're in for more well-engineered chaos. There are more clanging guitars and mayhem and the now-to-be-expected rhythmic demolition of the building is accomplished by the modestly violent James Agnew on "drums" (doesn't fool me). And, as everywhere on this amazing album, there are many great noises more than enough to satisfy any mad collector of Moog and whammy bar samples.
We finish on a gloomy wet morning, like the sad part of the Crossroads film transferred to a Huddersfield solicitor's office. It's big ballad time with a voice-from-beyond theme and the grinning face of Mr Entertainment menacing us from the posthumous video. "Ladies and Gentleman"? none present here, M'lud. Well, maybe Jenny Jet Harris and Dr John Gullliver. But judgement is pending and even they could get life.
If I can't give my favourite album of the year 5 out of 5 I shall sulk.
And the videos are great. "Big in a Small Town" is very scary and unpleasantly erotic in a most unsettling way. BUY THIS CD NOW.