So here I listen, earphones properly inserted. A Fifer with an accordion and a sad and sweet, slightly faulty voice, who lives by the sea and wends his own way along the pebbles and cracked shells. To my limited imagination, he sounds like a more mellifluous Ivor Cutler, whose dry Scots flavour evokes all kinds of witty oddness. Damon Gough is another marker, but perhaps one best skidded over.
Typically, the version I'm listening to has the tracks in the wrong order. So that actual intro "Leslie" is later on in my version. Sounds a powerful cry for help, not in the barbiturates and brandy sense; but a reaching out to another magic person. "Home in a Sentence" is a bit Snow Patrol for my liking. "You've No Clue Do You" is a bit too much of an indie disco thumper, a bit Bloc Party. Opening line, "As with all your rules of thumb/This comes with an index" is a beaut, mind - as is the boardgame conceit.
Might "Cowardly Custard" be addressed more to the government ("Did you just have me wired/Keeping tab of my motions?") than to an imagined human-sized stalker? If not, it's at least a deft piece of Metaphysical sleight of metaphor. "There's None of That" is also a contrarian joke about increasingly unlikely signifiers of romantic life before concluding "Giving up before we've started/Back-pedalling excuses...There's plenty of that."
"Bombshell" is angry. Angry thumbs jarring angry strings. I can't help thinking this is at Blair and Brown and New Labour Dem and the wars they were responsible for, they "shut out the decent wardens". This is before the Credit Crunch and a different Britain, when the anger was more about conduct abroad and erosions of civil liberties at home then the scabrous treatment of our own poor and weak. He holds on to the words of the chorus for a electrically vitriolic long span of time, daring them: "now drop your bombshells".
"Don't let you eyes stray low...Keep the Springtime at bay" ("Spystick") is a poet's guide to a first date and no mistake. "Cockle Shell" is about "pretty maidens in a row" and a private inferno of being a non-comittal romantic "airhead" fit for the guillotine, and has a sweetly-intoned masochistic streak a yard across - "Choke me/Blind me/Cut off my hands".
"Girlfriend, it's you I'll scuttle ships for/Make my first mate walk the plank for..I'm Admiral of nothing at all" somes up the power of words and images and how little power they really generate, no matter how big they might make you feel. This sense of scale runs through the whole album, and I like it much. Muchly much.
Rating: Thank Ali out of Gratitude