It’s not often you get the chance to review an album as old as yourself and when you combine that with the fact it’s from the masterful Toby Jepson, well, it simply had to be done. What’s even better is that whilst I’m aware of the broad strokes of Jepson’s musical career, I had no idea this even existed so I have the joy of simply approaching this as a brand new album to consume.
Which is exactly what I’ve done, voraciously so. For a touch of context, Ignorance is Bliss has been remastered and re-released for its 25th anniversary. Barely a year after Little Angels called it a day, Jepson had a lot to say, unafraid to speak his mind and wear his heart on his sleeve – something which is still true to this day, especially when you put Wayward Sons’ lyrics under the microscope.
Musically, the album is doing a lot. Originally released against the beige background of Britpop and grunge beginning to lose its original lustre, it sticks out on the musical landscape because it’s so different from its time. Yet it could easily be released in 2020 and sound modern and nowhere is that more obvious than lead single “I Won’t Be With You”. Full of high-octane guitar work, it’s a chugging riff which could feature in any of the modern hard rock bands of the last five years. Meanwhile, Jepson’s lyrics and vocals lay bare a warning – your time is up and the next time you’re in trouble, I won’t be there to help you. It bristles with anger and danger in its melody, a straightforward rock number, again it could have been released today and sound fresh but there’s also the sense that this was always Jepson’s heritage and style.
Meanwhile, there’s other lyrical topics which are just as relevant now as they were back in 1995, namely “Some People are More Equal Than Others” and “Spiritually Bankrupt”. As they bookend the album, the former with its gritty, hard-edged rock is what you’d expect from Jepson and examines the difference between the rich and the poor, not just in the UK but the world over. The one which still exists and arguably, even greater. However, it becomes even more relevant in today’s world when we see people attacked and murdered for their race, their sexuality and their gender and those people have to fight tooth and nail for basic human rights. The latter takes a sombre approach to close out the album and revisits the idea of money from the opening track – the pursuit of wealth at all costs and how we lose touch with our humanity in doing so and as people build their wealth, we lose touch with who we are and see that economically, we may grow but society and humanity declines.
Much of the album examines Jepson’s history up to that point and where he was in his life then. He explores different facets of his history with Little Angels and past relationships. Indeed, the acoustic-driven “All Heal in Time” is the lesson you’re told by others with more experience or what we even tell ourselves that it may seem bad now but it will get better and that we can move on. The similarly stripped back “Out of Sight Out of Mind” looks at the idea of experience and how it colours and shapes our respective lives and the way we utilise our own personal lessons.
While there are a number of traditional rockers you’d expect from Jepson’s breed, there’s also a few curveballs to keep you on your toes. “The Wind Blows Hard” takes on a darker, grungy tone you’d expect from Pearl Jam or Soundgarden, almost as if he’s trying his own hand at the music which made the more classic acts unfashionable but it’s not done snidely, instead, there’s reverence and respect paid. However, it’s the triple hit near the end where the record really shows its variety in the funky “Harder All the Time”, the hard-charging “Open Your Mind” and the swagger of “Get Your Feet On”.
Ignorance is Bliss shows how great a musician and songwriter Toby Jepson is. Just as Wayward Sons’ “Long Line of Pretenders” was oddly prophetic, with the “bigger issues” on this album, it shows how spot on Jepson was. His vocals are strong and recognisable immediately, punctuated by youthful energy. From a production standpoint, this is flawless and a lesson on how to remaster an album and works perfectly for the tone of it – it’s big, bright and bold. While it could have been a little anachronistic in 1995 with its classic tinges, it feels bang up to date a quarter of a century later. It’s a record which never feels like it’s trying to do too much but instead, offers a lot of what you’d expect and throwing in some surprises for that extra heft.
Ignorance Is Bliss (25th Anniversary remastered) is out 17th July 2020.