If Seasick Steve had been a genuine longshoreman he might sound like Flash Pan Hunter: weary, wizened, showing signs of salt corrosion and writing tunes you can play on the comb and harmonica. With a crush on Tom Waits and access to folk producer Tim Bidwell, Clark Gregg’s debut album is a collection of shaggy and chorus-free love songs that might have graced Brighton’s bars any time last century (a lyrical nod to offices and TV quiz shows is about as modern as he gets). Bidwell’s production is more up to speed, adding modern pop touches and psychedelia to the hound-dog crying of its creator. You won’t find a more irresistible beatnik album in southeast England today.
The most prominent trait on Quick Way to Enemy is its contradictions: dropouts pluck their anxieties to 12-string guitars and hoarse-throated men sing loudly in soprano. Its black breeziness may seem hard to swallow at first (Gregg considers the album to be a destruction manual - if you act out the lyrics you’ll end up a pariah) but a lot of it’s hopelessly cute, with ‘The Chase’ and its dizzy guitar breaks sounding like Hendrix gone speed-dating (sample lyric: “I’m hoping that you sleep with me once/And you leave right at once/And you don’t take my number now”), and ‘Quiz Show’s scratchy psychedelic rock describing the evils of watching Catchphrase. Conscious of being bracketed as a comedy act, Gregg tries to counter the jokey tracks with more swampy experiments, such as ‘Cranium’ and its stream-of-consciousness/ three-chord tune, which feels like looking at patterned carpet, but he usually keeps things just kooky enough - see the homicidal love story on ‘Rose Don’t Do It’ where a knife-wielding abductor describes the garden sex she’s about to have with her hostage.
Other times Gregg drops the quaint guise altogether and shows he’s done a lot more than just swap stories at art college. Grounded folk songs balance out those moments where he commits the guitar equivalent of stoned cackling: Thom Yorke whimpering and queasy acoustics of ‘Never Made’ recall ‘Paranoid Android’, while ‘Patchouli’ and its lonely piano scales make the most of his wavering range. Though the Flash Pan Hunter idea of rocking out might only match Bowie’s catsuit antics, he can still build momentum, such as the adventurous drum ‘n’ bass beat on ‘Howl at the Moon’ or ‘Overcome Love’ and its nod to early Razorlight.
Whether sensible or going panto, Gregg’s secret weapon is his slipped-in idiosyncrasies. Amidst all the hi-jinx are things pulled straight from his diary: the title track sees him reaching out to a boozy pal, crying ”Take another drink/And sleep another wink/And hope another week will do”, and ‘Sealed with a Kiss’ destroys the Jason Donovan version with guitars, horns and male choirs, like it’s Ennio Morricone experiencing the cold lonely summer. It’s this sense of unashamedness that holds Quick Way to Enemy together, enhancing its songwriter’s slobby charm whenever he drops the ball, and making sure that for each time he combines woodwind and wah-wah guitar into a hippy’s idea of intimidating, his wit’s close by to dig him out.
7George Bass's Score