Scary, but not quite scary enough...
Chris Jones 2007
James Johnston, lead singer and guitarist with London-based Gallon Drunk has weathered much since the earliest days of the band in the early 90s. Not only is he the only original member left, he’s also spent a significant part of the interim as a member of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds; a band who GD have constantly been accused of aping. So, in this newest guise with new bassist Simon Wring, can the be-suited purveyors of louche garage jazz offer anything new?
The Rotten Mile kicks off in absolutely corking style with the title track. The sheets of guitar noise thrown up and plastered with ex-Higson, Terry Edwards' squalling sax remind the listener more of Cave's previous band, The Birthday Party. It's a kind of mutant jazzabilly rumble that sends warning signals to those of a weaker constitution. Coupled with the cover shots of seedy club interiors and the guys hanging around in their sub-gangster clobber, this could be taken as ultra-realism, or as just dressing up as hard men. After about four tracks the songs defiantly refuse to say anything else other than: 'Here's life in the Big Smoke. It's all a bit heavy, innit?' Everything's 'a mess' (''Bad Servant''), 'hopeless' (''Grand Union Canal'') or plain 'damned and desperate' (''Put A Bolt In The Door''). Get the picture?
This isn’t to say that GD are mere copyists of Cave's courting of the underworld. They have a fine line in accomplished mayhem that, aided by Ian White's rattling drums and the aforementioned Edward's horns, can almost convince you that this is a real ride to hell. The London-centric theme is nicely varied with "Down At The Harbour" transposing the heaviness back in time to the 19th century docklands. Yet the tales of madness on the Northern Line ("Give Me Back What’s Mine") and terminal casualty ("On Ward 10") too often sound posturing rather than dangerous. The closing cover of Johnny Mercer's "The Shadow Of Your Smile" is, however, a nicely mellow (albeit creepy) cure-all for all the angst. But maybe GD's time has truly passed.
Having said all that, I wouldn't like to meet this bunch down a dark alley…