Back in 2015 we wrote about an album which seemed to epitomise that old Wildean quote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” That album was Mishka Shubaly’s Coward’s Path, a dark and at times shambolic collection of drug fuelled misanthropy compared to which the likes of Nick Cave and Mark Lanagan sounded like top 40 popsters. Well Shubaly, a man who has probably the most chequered past of anyone we’ve reviewed has done it again with When We Were Animals, another dive into the depths of despair and again delivered with a voice sounding like Barry McGuire has had throat surgery.
It’s not for the faint hearted. No radio station is ever going to play World’s Smallest Violin, a song which kicks off with a punk rock throb sounding like a testosteroned Lou Reed looking for a fight as Shubaly describes a pretty sordid carnal encounter in a bar seesawing between GG Allin like explicitness and wry humour. You just have to love a line like, “When I pulled down my pants, that look on your face like you had lost a bet, “showing that Shubaly is at least not going to boast of his penile prowess.
So, fair warned, what can one expect from the remainder of the album? Well, pretty much more of the same, the music ranging from a mutant form of freak folk to spikier rock songs but the subject matter pretty much focussed on degradation and regret. Never Drinking Again is a bluesy hangover filled with regret as Shubaly populates the song with an exhaustive list of substances that he’s never going to do again before singing, “I’m never going to talk to you again,” indicating a partner as destructive as the drugs. By the end however he’s still in thrall to this person, the relationship reminiscent of Bukowski’s Barfly. The opening song Forget About Me, another loutish punk like thrash sets out Shubaly’s take on relationships as he looks for a cross between an angel and a demon while Animal is a slow growler of a song with Shubaly joined by an anguished female singer as they sing about down and dirty coitus. There’s a hint of Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries in the drug fuelled night out recalled (or not as the case may be) on Death In Greenpoint with Shubaly again transforming a calamitous one night drug fuelled Odyssey via his fantastic words on the final lines, “Well I think I’m going to go with a headfull of blow, in a Polish disco, in Greenpoint.” Meanwhile there is a tender moment on the Farmer John referencing Destructible which, while remaining quite dark, reminds one of The Handsome Family.
Just in case you’re wondering how far entrenched into the drugs world Shubaly was engaged in he offers us a loaded cover version of Little Feat’s Willin. Whereas the original was a brilliant delivery of those days when smuggling drugs had a fine and breezy outlaw vibe to it, here Shubaly invests it with a menace more akin to the murder and mayhem we’ve seen via shows like Narco. Just brilliant.
Mishka Shubaly is currently touring the UK. All dates here including a show at the 13th Note in Glasgow this Saturday.