Big Boy Bloater is an incredibly accomplished guitarist. He has a gravelly growl of a voice and a list of musical collaborations as long as your arm. He presents the Blues Magazine Show on Team Rock Radio. Jools Holland described him as, “…one of the greatest bluesmen of our time”. Mark Lamarr likes him so much he personally funded the recording of a single. And Sir Paul McCartney once asked Mr Bloater to record with him at Abbey Road. …But he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page! Seriously? What are you playing at Big Boy fans? Get busy and build this man a Wikipedea entry post-haste.
Why does he need a Wikipedia entry? Because his new album, Luxury Hobo, is a Big Boy Belter of a beast. Anyone encountering Mr Bloater for the first time as a result of hearing this album is going to want to find out more about him and his music.
I was going to offer “fun” as a one-word review but I knew it wasn’t right. There is humour throughout the album but it often has a dark edge; the music can be upbeat but undercut by some heavy themes. I think, therefore, that a better word is “witty”. There is playfulness in the lyrics even when they are dealing with more serious subjects.
Before I take a closer look at the music, a quick word about the cover: what a fantastic picture! I love the distorted reflections on the side of the caravan. (Or should I call it a trailer?) And Mr Bloater sitting framed in the doorway, looking worldly weary. It is a fantastic portrait.
The first track, “Devils Not Angels” is an astonishingly good opener. Here is a prime example of the witty approach I was talking about. The first lines (assuming my old ears are hearing it right) are: “She’s a devil on her shoulder, another on her other…” and then in the chorus: “She’s got devils not angels watching over her.” Brilliant – guardian Devils! Here is a woman without an angel on her sholder to act as her conscience. Here is a woman to avoid! Dan Edwards sounds great on the keyboards and the song has an interesting stop/start structure that I imagine will work wonderfully well live. Steven Oats on the bass drives along and there is an interesting little drum break from Matt Cowley before each chorus. We also get the first of many outstanding guitar solos from Mr Bloater. The kind of opening track that makes you want to skip back to the beginning and listen to it again before continuing with the rest of the album. I’ll say it again: an astonishingly good opener.
The problem with keeping track one on repeat is you’d miss “It Came Out Of The Swamp” – the Blues meets the B Movie. This track positively stomps along. Again, it has fun lyrics but with a serious message about the need for tolerance and understanding. The video for this song is a stop-motion creature feature done in Lego, which was created by Big Boy Bloater himself. Check it out at the end of this review.
Track three is “I Love You (But I Can’t Stand Your Friends)”. My favourite line is about a chap who never buys a drink but “Just sits there in his funky stink.” Later, however, the advice about the friends is: “It’s time to ditch them all and see, how much more you can have with me.” Hmm! Sounds a bit creepy at that point, as he seems to be cutting his partner off from all other friends and family. Is he trying to set up a Big Boy Bloater cult? Do we need to do an intervention to rescue his brainwashed followers? Or am I reading too much into a bit of fun? You decide! What ever you think of the lyrics, it is hard not to be impressed with the piano on this track.
At track four, we reach “The Devil’s Tail”, which features some outstanding slide guitar but it is the keyboard solo from Dan really stands out for me! It appears to be about the lengths people will go to for their 15 minutes of fame including (metaphorically at least) standing on the Devil’s tail and throwing gasoline on a fire.
Next comes possibly the darkest track, “I Got The Feeling Someone’s Watching Me” The music is stripped right back: handclaps and clanging (funeral?) bells predominate. It reminds me of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” with the same brooding air of menace. The lyrics are delivered with a suitably creepy paranoia that has you looking over your own shoulder to see who’s watching. It also has my favourite guitar solo. It is not flash and frenetic but slow and controlled. No guitar pyrotechnics but a solo that delivers exactly what the song needs.
Thankfully, after the darkness of track five, we get a track that sounds almost jolly although the lyrics hint at something darker. The title track, “Luxury Hobo Blues” is about the problems of the touring musician. He seems to have everything he could need yet says he still has to, “medicate his brain” to cope. It reminds me of Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” but where Walsh is tends towards the sarcastic, Big Boy Bloater tends more to melancholy. It has a quirky guitar solo to match mood of song but would benefit from more cowbell!
I had not intended to write about every song on the album but I enjoyed them all so much that, with only three to go, I might as well finish what I accidentally started. “Robot Girlfriend” has a great opening riff. The lyrics reveal some interesting gender politics. I wonder how many men would consider that the perfect girlfriend could be switched off so they could watch the TV? And I wonder how many non-robot girlfriends would happily punch the, “stupid human face” of a boyfriend behaved like the one in the song?
Big Boy Bloater was described earlier as a bluesman and it is true that the blues infuses the whole of this album. But blues is only a part of the story. There is rock, R&B and more than a little soul here too. The penultimate track, “All Things Considered” is an example where the soul influence is both front and centre. It is a track that is simultaneously laid-back and grumpy. The lyrics sound like the protagonist is rehearsing well-worn arguments. “Wrong, wrong, wrong”, say the lyrics but, as far as the groove of this track is concerned, I say right, right, right.
And finally, and all to soon, the album closes with “Not Cool Man”. Fun lyrics and a fun end to the album. What’s not to like about a song that rhymes “martini” with “mankini”?
This is an album that is born out of some dark and difficult times for Big Boy Bloater and that darkness is clearly there in the songs. But there is light too and there is hope. And, most importantly, there is a Big Boy Belter of an album!