James Brown may have coined the phrase “the hardest working man in show business” but Stanley Brinks is surely the obvious heir to the title. It seems that if he’s not in a recording studio – his Fika Recordings bio says he’s recorded more than 100 albums, including numerous collaborations – then he’s touring, often small venues and house gigs, and his new album slots smoothly into that pattern. My Ass is the follow-up to last year’s Gin and as such is his fourth album with The Wave Pictures, the London-based trio of David Tattersall (vocals and guitar), Franic Rozycki (bass guitar) and Jonny Helm (drums), themselves no strangers to a similarly intensive studio/gigging lifestyle.
In my review of Pizza Espresso, his 2014 collaboration with singer and multi-instrumentalist Clémence Freschard, I said that, while “Gin was a ‘roll back the carpet and put on your dancing shoes’ kind of album, Pizza Espresso is the record you’d put on after the party” and the ability of Stanley Brinks and The Wave Pictures to capture a particular moment, a specific mood, underpins My Ass. The PR notes tell us that he “wasted no time in taking The Wave Pictures straight back to the studio, bright and early, the morning after the final show of their tour, to ensure they lost none of the fire still burning in their hearts from the final night’s drinks” and, despite any lingering road-weariness, that fire is still more than enough to warm the cockles of your heart.
In keeping with the familiar hit-and-run tactics of the band, the twelve tracks of My Ass were laid down over the course of three days. The result is a record which keeps a very loose, spontaneous feel, although there’s no doubt that this wouldn’t have been possible to achieve without the high standard of musicianship that comes from a relentless touring schedule. Additionally, there’s a continuity about the sound which knits the album together although there’s enough variety to keep the listener’s attention.
Variety in the old-fashioned music hall sense informs the mildly humorous opening track ‘My Camel’ which, to my ears, sounds unnervingly close to a reworking of an old chestnut like ‘The Streets Of Cairo’ but, on the other hand, it does allow Stanley to demonstrate his newly-acquired skill as a penny-whistle player. From the end of the pier we wander into the seaside resort of ‘Brighton’ to drink beer and eat chips to the accompaniment of a more poppy, indie-rock sound complete with strangled guitar solos which may or may not be mimicking crying seagulls. The faux calypso groove of ‘Fire To My Mind’ sees Stan picking up his trusty soprano sax; there’s some nice interplay with David’s guitar which contrasts sweetly with the wistfully lovelorn lyric.
Not to be confused with the Lou Reed song of the same name, ‘Berlin’ is the album’s second single and is a reflective mid-tempo number which is a highlight of the record, not least for the way in which it balances its pop leanings with the existential angst of its lyric and a hook which combines catchy melody with a brilliantly crafted couplet:
“Before we even get a chance to choose, we are already forgiven
We are already forgiven, we are older than the world we live in”
‘Love Me Too’ is a more bluesy tune with some emotional sax to accompany its sad breakup lyric; the guitar solo cries on your shoulder while Jonny stoically holds down the rhythm. ‘Run Along’ continues the lyrically lovelorn theme and, although Stan does appear to be feeling a smidge of frustration, to say the least, some exemplary bass from Franic keeps the mood from disappearing down a dark and gloomy hole.
The spartan ‘Think About You’, from where the album’s title arises, revisits the almost music hall vibe of the opening track as it cracks open another bottle of whisky to drown its sorrows and ease its broken heart, while the descending riff of ‘Goodbye My Love’ cranks up the tempo a little, although the relationship breakup tale of the lyrics keeps to the album’s surprisingly glum mood.
Then it’s all change for ‘Wakefield’, lead single and the first truly upbeat song of the album in which, as they say, our hero gets laid. I’ll leave the listener to decide if these facts are connected but will add that the accompanying video, shot in West Yorkshire’s very own “Merrie City”, seems to have taken place on one of the few sunny days of the summer and looks as though a fun time was had by all.
Stan’s undoubted skills on the penny whistle are again displayed on the chugging ‘With My Chin’, a hard-angled take on Americana with a lyric filled with regret for wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, before our hero flounces ‘Back To My Island In The Sun’ in a mellow, percussive song which shimmies gracefully by on its way to the closing ‘Balluta Bay’, to bring the album to a quiet and introspective conclusion.
There’s no mistaking the unique sound of Stanley Brinks and The Wave Pictures in every single note on My Ass, but the overall mood seems to be uncharacteristically downbeat. A certain amount of that can, no doubt, be ascribed to the rigours of life on the road, of always acting out the trope of ‘the guitar man’ – and perhaps there’s also a lesson to be learned about hitting the studio the morning after you finish touring – but here the music seems to be tempered with a growing realisation that the sting in the tail of a nomadic life is the intractability of maintaining any kind of long-term, loving relationship. Nevertheless, it’s a powerfully honest album which, when played back-to-back with Gin, creates an almost perfect soundtrack to the humdrum, everyday existence of many people, to the ups and downs of lives lived to the fullest extent possible and, for that alone, My Ass is definitely something to be cherished.
Review by: Helen Gregory
My Ass is released 02 October 2015
Pre-Order it here: shop.fikarecordings.com/album/my-ass
Stanley Brinks Solo
Wed Sep 30th: LONDON – All You Read Is Love, Leytonstone
Tour dates with The Wave Pictures and Freschard:
Fri Oct 2nd : CARDIFF – Full Moon
Sat Oct 3rd : PRESTON – Blitz Club
Sun Oct 4th : EDINBURGH – Teviot Underground
Mon Oct 5th : GLASGOW – Broadcast
Tue Oct 6th : BIRMINGHAM – Hare and Hounds
Wed Oct 7th : LONDON – The Lexington