Baby Bird: Ugly Beautiful

The first Baby Bird-as-a-band album is hideously lovely…

NICK BEGGS. Nick “Kajagoogoo” Beggs. The bloke who, in his new job as A&R man, told Baby Bird that sending lo-fi, four-track demos to record companies wasn’t on, before telling them to, basically, f*** off. Nick Beggs. The bloke who probably watched Top Of The Pops last week with tears in his eyes, as a four-track single by Baby Bird went straight in at Number Three.

And if Nick cares the slightest sod for music, he’ll also be weeping at the missed opportunity to get a free copy of Ugly Beautiful. It’s been noted before, but Baby Bird are very similar to Beck in their modus operandi — no rules or plans, no specific genre or scene: just a love of music, an ability to isolate the sounds and chords that quicken the heart, and lyrics that are a delightful mixture of super-intelligent common sense and wild-eyed Shaun-Ryderness. The lopsided sweetness of Ugly Beautiful is a wonderful antidote to the Coke™ Rock that’s cluttering the charts, and its gumbo eclecticism tastes like real ear-food after the white bread stodge of, say, Kula Shaker.

First sides first: and it’s just generic Baby Birdness until ‘Atomic Soda’, which is simply disturbing. A crunching, bare-bones drum-loop drops in and out, with a ten-note piano line running underneath like vague panic. There’s some cheap, muted strings from a sampler CD in the background, and nothing more; save Steve wailing like those tiny, black-swathed Mediterranean women who turn into professional mourning machines at funerals. It’s poignantorama. Straight after and we’re into ‘You’re Gorgeous’ — I’ve already seen gruesome couples mouthing this at each other, little realising the lyrics, with their “Legs pulled apart” and ice “rubbed on your chest”, are about sticky porny photographers hunting beaver shots from models. Steve’s quietly, humorously and homily feminist: “Will you lick my candy, girl (And I don’t mean that rudely)?” gives you a fairly good idea of his world-view.

The second side is entirely edible — ‘King Bing’ is six seconds short of ten minutes, and the drums and guitars work in opposition, each dislocated and rubbing up against each other, like a broken leg-bone will crack and click if you try to dance on it. Steve sounds like he’s at least two bottles of whiskey up on the rest of us: burping, faking orgasm, turning alternately into Nick Cave, Kriss Kross, Mark E Smith and Scatman John. “Son — you’re a king. King, king, king/The word, king/You’re not — Paul King/You’re — the king.” Following this drunken stagger, the clean, sweet lines of ‘You & Me’ and ’45 & Fat’ are like a wonderful shagging dream after a compulsive, monster-filled nightmare. The tinny, clockwork wonder of ‘Ladybird In July’ is also here — saved from B-side hell to live on forever in Album Land.

‘Too Handsome To Be Homeless’ is the king, however — kingier than ‘King Bing’. “I’ll give you babies but I won’t make you come,” Steve croons, as a more mordant, urban version of ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ prowls along beneath him.

How will they ever compile that infamous Best Of? This already sounds like it.

© Caitlin MoranMelody Maker, 19 October 1996

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