A considered and focused return for the elusive Ergo.
John Aizlewood 2012
Something of a renaissance man, the elusive Ergo Phizmiz claims to be involved in a smorgasbord of artistic endeavours, ranging from producing radio programmes to making whatever “electronic multimedia operas” may be.
Oh, and there was an acoustic version of The Prodigy’s Music for the Jilted Generation, plus tributes to Kylie Minogue, Snap! and Aphex Twin, not to mention a 15-hour take on Faust and an exhibition of paper collages on the Isle of Wight.
In 2010, Things to Do and Make, his first-properly released album under the Ergo Phizmiz name, was a slice of whimsy which nodded to the late-60s/early-70s Canterbury scene, Daniel Johnston and Eels. It veered between annoyingly childish and endearingly child-like and a cult was born.
Now comes the correctly titled follow-up. Whilst the mainstream remains unembraced, Eleven Songs is a less whimsical, more considered and more focused proposition. The half-spoken Fingerwings chugs along with a louche charm which explains comparisons with Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band leader Vivian Stanshall, who would surely have chuckled at the T.S. Eliot-twisting The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove.
The dreamy instrumental Space Dance harkens to Phizmiz’s electronica roots; Celandine has the jerky angularity of The Stranglers’ quieter moments; but the sparseness of Lafcadio (“kidnap the Pope!” indeed) harkens to unadorned Essex bard Darren Hayman. There’s a Luke Haines-style lyrical hardness to Ophelia, when Phizmiz cheerily muses on the titular woman’s demise, and he’s in similarly frisky mood on the impossibly jaunty The Penguin: “I’ll write your obituary and stick it on my face.”
Always accessible yet always otherworldly, Eleven Songs is not so much caught between two stools, as willingly cussed. Indeed, part of its appeal is that Phizmiz is probably joking, but it’s hard to tell exactly where. Devil in the Belfry is the obvious standout, veering wildly from downbeat, slightly ominous verses to a chorus which lurches like peak-period Beck, but hidden not too far beneath the surface is a serviceable pop song.
It’s at moments like this when the quixotic notion of Ergo Phizmiz breaking through seems more than merely a slightly unhinged dream.