Album Review: The Sensible Gray Cells – “A Postcard From Britain”
While there’s never any shortage of Britpunk plaudits happy to tell the general public just how seminal the Sex Pistols and the Clash were, it’s easy to forget that there was a third band there at the beginning vying for the frontrunners place who’ve pretty much stuck around ever since (except for a brief hiatus in the early ’90s) and whose work, I’d argue, is every bit as important.
I refer of course to the Damned. While the Pistols burnt bright before exploding in a supernova and the Clash were done by the mid-’80s, Dave Vanian and co have continued to release albums right up to the present day from their initial incarnation as Stooges-indebted rabid garage rockers through their early ’80s more psychedelic influenced sound and their late ’80s goth incarnation to their more recent albums which have seen them mixing all these influences together to quite agreeable effect.
However, in recent years Damned albums have become a lot less frequent (it’s now four years since their last one “So Who’s Paranoid?” was released) which makes this new release from the legendary Captain Sensible and early ’80s Damned bass legend Paul Gray (hence the band name y’see?) a rather welcome occurrence.
In my view, the Captain’s endearingly daft and larger-than-life persona has always slightly obscured the fact that he’s actually one hell of a talented songwriter and “A Postcard From Britain” sees him at his best. Backed up by Gray’s bass rumble (and as a bass player myself who cites the guy as one of my main influences along with Dave Tregunna from the Lords of the New Church and JJ Burnel from the Stranglers, it’s great to see him back recording again after recent brushes with both tinnitus and cancer which he’s thankfully now overcome), the effect is definitely reminiscent of the early ’80s Damned line-up that the two were in that produced the classic “Black Album” and “Strawberries”, but brings the sound up to date for the 20th century.
As I’ve said earlier, Sensible and Gray have taken aim at a wide variety of subjects ranging from binge drinking (opener and first single “Tragic Roundabout”) through clueless X Factor wannabes (“Halfway To Hollywood”), the Iraq War (“Stole Into The Night”) and even the crap weather that inevitably rears its head on these shores in July and August (“English Summer”). But whether they’re penning a wistful ode to the way town centres used to be before the chainstores took over (“Forgotten High Streets”) or taking a cheerfully vitriolic swipe at tabloid culture (the excellent “Lottery Of Life”), every song on here has great hooks and a chorus that’ll keep you humming to yourself for days. It’s also an album that you’ll keep coming back to and discovering little new things that you missed on previous listens every time – to be honest, it’s the sort of album you could happily lose yourself in for days. And like I say, that’s the mark of a good songwriter and a good group.
All in all then, “A Postcard From Britain” is a damning yet sympathetic indictment of the times we live in here in modern Britain and a cracking collection of tunes to boot. This one comes heavily recommended.