The soundtrack to bar brawl where even the toughs wear eyeliner.
Nadine McBay 2009
London transplants The Brute Chorus don’t make cinematic music, they make theatrical music. Like an ambitious skiffle band suckled on surf, old time blues and quiff-bouncing rockabilly, their music breathes and sweats; you can almost feel the saliva spray as frontman James Steel splutters lines about flooded tower blocks and duplicitous mythical heroes.
So the applause meeting the conclusion of arresting opener Hercules is not the intrusion it might have been. Though not billed as a live album, this self-titled debut was recorded in front of an audience at Camden’s Roundhouse earlier this year. Recorded in an hour and mixed by veteran Aussie producer Victor Van Vugt, the album’s technical scenario is less about gimmick than creating the conditions for the band to flourish as a cohesive unit. And flourish they do on the album’s introductory brace, Hercules being a subversive, three-minute pot-boiler set to guitars so sharp they’d have your innards out, while She Was Always Cool is a snappy, witty tale of Jonah and his rescue from the whale by a shades-sporting hip chick. Just as that track inverts the usual pop structure of tense, quiet verses and loud, brash choruses, here Steel throws one of his lyrical curveballs, eventually revealing the adventure to be the dream of a fella asleep in a rented car.
Though let down by the odd hackneyed line or rhyme, Steel’s gutsy, quivering storytelling has a high hit rate, his meld of antiquity and the contemporary being particularly winning as is his matching of male classical heroes to equally wily female counterparts. Still, there’s something a little pastiche here – particularly on the histrionic likes of The Cuckoo and the Stolen Heart, featuring Chew Lips frontwoman Tigs, or in gothic torch songs such as Love’s Chains. Like fellow Londoners The Bookhouse Boys, often there’s a tang of kitsch that stops you from taking The Brute Chorus as seriously as they perhaps want you to.
That’s far from fatal in terms of enjoyability, though – this is the soundtrack to bar brawl where even the toughs wear eyeliner. It’s just you suspect you all got hammered on moonshine, not bourbon.