STEVEN JONES’/Baby Bird’s biggest sounding and best offering to date
NO ONE has ever baulked quite so much at success as Baby Bird’s Steven Jones. ‘You’re Gorgeous’ was an international hit that opened doors after years of splendid bedsit isolation. But he’s always been horrified at the thought of being regarded as a latterday Jona Lewie, with ‘Your Gorgeous’ as his ‘Stop The Cavalry’.
Furthermore, there were fears that once success enabled him to work in a 48-track studio, the delicate charm of his songs would be lost in a welter of digitalia and overdubs.
There’s Something Going On magisterially allays all these concerns. It’s an improvement on Ugly/Beautiful, a four-star job itself.
Boldly eschewing the easy option of hacking about for a ‘You’re Gorgeous’ part II, this is big, sumptuous, uncompromisingly mordant pop music, no more so than on ‘Bad Old Man’, musically as elegant and decaying as Venice sinking into its own mire, its lyrical anti-hero a nightmarish amalgam of too many episodes of The Jerry Springer Show. There’s just one previously recorded song – ‘I Was Never Here’, from Fatherhood, here given a full-blown, fountainous treatment, culminating in a pebbledash assault of Sonic Youth guitar, an indication of how far Baby Bird have come on.
If previously, Baby Bird’s albums seemed slightly spacey affairs, with lots of different ideas dangling off the edges of songs, then this album is much more focused, synergised. Take ‘If You’ll Be Mine’, on which janglepop and drum’n’bass are effortlessly merged.
Emotionally, it’s more devastating, direct and draining. ‘Back Together’ is a heart-surging belter that brings the plaster falling from the ceiling, ‘Take Me Back’ an anguished lament for an abused child. The familiar Baby Bird themes of vulnerability and pathetic sleaze are dealt with here, as on the psychotically possessive ‘You Will Always Love Me’, and ‘First Man On The Sun’ will give slight solace to those who’ve been content to write off Baby Bird as an English Beck.
There are few of the quirks, larks and eccentricities which used to characterise Jones’ work oh this, his most mature and hugely affecting work to date. ‘It’s Not Funny Anymore’ says it all.
Who the fuck is Beck? On There’s Something Going On, Baby Bird truly and fully come into their own.
© David Stubbs, Uncut, September 1998