Long a mainstay of the London pub gigging scene Simon Stanley Ward released a fine debut album a few years back but since then he’s developed a career as a stand up comedian so it was with some trepidation that we bunged this on the player. The first song, Jurassic Park, is about, well, you guessed it, the movie Jurassic Park. Over a pumped up new wave backdrop Ward sings about how he wished he was Jeff Goldblum in the said movie. It ‘s the type of song a band like The Vapours could have slain Top Of The Pops with back in the eighties which is fine but it doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the album.
Thank heavens then that the remainder of the songs are built on stronger foundations although there’s little of the Alt Country feel of Ward’s debut. They are light hearted in the lyrical sense as he sings about Beluga whales and the import of water and stylistically they wander from fifties rock to grungy Spanish Stroll like riffs with only one song venturing into country territory. It helps immensely that Ward has assembled an ace band composed of some familiar names including Paul Lush (who also produced), Henry Senior, Tom Collinson, Geoff Easeman and Neil Marsh – have a look through your collection and you’ll find those names in there.
The ramshackle honky tonk, I Heard It All, on the perils of voicemail and ensuing paranoia, recalls some of the work of Phil Lee and it’s our favourite number here purely because it reminds us of the first album. However, the next song, Wow, is an absolute cracker as it zooms off like a Thin Lizzy and Hawkwind merger. Here Ward recounts a true event when an astronomer working on the SETI project believed he had received an alien message (look it up). The band zoom into outer space as Lush lets rip with some stratospheric guitar solos before it all boils down with some interstellar warbles. Grand stuff. Beluga Whale is more restrained, the band laying down a fine beat as Ward imagines himself one of these clown like leviathans while laying down a nice plea regarding the fate of these beasts. Meanwhile Water (You’ve Got To Have It) comes across as an environmental lecture being delivered by a somewhat dishevelled Bob Dylan (with his heart in the Highlands) as Ward does his best impression while the band wheeze and heave mightily with some excellent accordion from Gill Frost.
Settling into the album there’s the sublime Mexican tinged Goodbye, the glowering funk of Set In Stone and the sunny delight of A Friend (Who Isn’t Me) with pedal steel and chunky twang guitar giving it a fine swagger. All fine songs and quite smart lyrically but we’ll reserve the last words for the closing Wine. It returns to a new wave type of style but here it’s more Joe Jackson than The Vapours as Ward meditates on the results of spilling his last glass of Rioja into his bath as he soaks. Again, the band are a salve as they revolve around Ward’s words with a great degree of empathy. If Elvis Costello is looking for a new backing band he should start here.
Overall Songs From Various Places is an odd album but there’s no doubting the craft that’s gone into the making of it. After listening to it over the past few days we’d actually love to see Ward do a 1980’s TOTP video for the opening song, skinny ties and all and he could maybe persuade Jeff Goldblum to do a cameo.