(Chemikal Underground; 2009)
By George Bass | 13 July 2009
Every John Peel fan worth their salt can remember where they were the day the Delgados broke up. For me, it was injecting anti-venom into woodworm-riddled furniture, wondering if I’d necessarily made the right career move that year. I had, I decided, and straight away got to work on a metaphor: here in the chewed armrests was the legacy of the Delgados—tiny invisible blighters whose records turned the world’s corners to Swiss cheese—and here in my other hand was the needle of real life, come to end the wormies’ adventures in one fell squirt. Bass player Stewart Henderson had got tired, you see, tired of “pouring so much of [his] energy and time into something that never quite seemed to get the attention or respect [he] felt it deserved.” The band knew they’d never again make another LP without that all-important fourth wheel, and so after 2005’s final “Girls of Valour” seven-inch, that was the Delgados. Finito.
That was four years ago. Now, hibernating frontman Alun Woodward has followed frontwoman Emma Pollock’s maneuver to try and eek out a solo career, emerging as Lord Cut-Glass (named after a character in Under Milk Wood Woodward tripped to while holed up with fever). Musically he’s spread his wings; colliery brass, accordions, glockenspiel, and sitars all flourish under his fair orchestration. He’s also had a slight psychotic break in the lyric-writing stakes, cramming lashings of mischief into every couplet and heavenly crescendo he’s famed for. To say his record is therefore a pearl on the Chemikal Underground roll call would be to disregard the magic of the Phantom Band, Angil+Hiddntracks, etc., but I will say this: it’s a witty, essential, and heartbreaking nugget, one that Dylan Thomas himself would get hard to if his coffin lid wasn’t screwed down.
Take track one, the ever-so Christian “Even Jesus Couldn’t Love You.” It shows off a lush, Gaelic kick that thrashes like cocaine sex games, an evil bluegrass stomp scoring the beats as Woodward shudders at a floozy’s proposal. Who cares if he hasn’t had it for months or that she only stops down the hall? A man’s got to have standards, and he’d rather go home and rub one out than try and make it with this spoilt little madam. “Where did it go wrong, what happened here / Did your pony not wuv you? / Reject you and buck you?” all in his Scots dulcets, building an ode to the spoilt Pollyannas who lost their hymens while learning to horseride. By the way, that’s Scots as in 100% Scottish, right—Woodward has suffered a crash in elocution, his voice now sounding more Glesgae than a loch full of battered Irn-Bru. In his Lordship alter-ego, though, he carries it off with style, and oozes a kind of dapper venom in his delivery, the serene folk-plus melodies caked into eleven succulent sours.
So, coyly crass indie rock with eighty-degree folk leanings? It all points to one thing: the Delgados are dead, long live the Delgados. That might be the case to someone who’s got Woodward’s former band on permanent rotate (they had a thing for changing tact; pop/indie/stadium/pop), but Lord Cut-Glass goes a little deeper than Alun ever did before. The chords and anger of his former band shine through as the bedrock for LC-G, and Woodward is keen to sail closer to the wind now that he’s safely rebadged himself. “Big Time Teddy,” for example, is a barbed little one-man-band which may or may not tackle child abuse, the Lord complaining of “no more love in Teddy’s bed” while marching bands fall in behind him. First single “Look After Your Wife” is a little lighter, thank fuck; a spry ode to fidelity with its dizzy bonk set to plagiarise Monty Python. Here, the Lord argues the virtues of chivalry. And has lightbulbs fly out of his head.
He’s not all prim and proper and fancy and fucked-up, though: on occasion the Rt. Hon. Cut-Glass lets his blood thin down from royal blue, revealing the humanity that pumps ‘round inside him. “Be Careful What You Wish For”‘s delicate strings and, in particular, the make-or-break testament he lays down in “A Pulse” show the Lord as more than the pantomime quipper his dress sense makes him out to be. These songs are forlorn, gut-wrenching serenades requiring address from a future Lady Cut-Glass, with the latter in particularly being painfully poignant, detailing Woodward’s awe and hopelessness after a night swapping tragedies with a friend. “It’s 3:31 and there’s peace in the land / I am decidedly keen but I might need a hand / I’m nothing at all without love / I need to be loved just by something / A rat or a dog / A pimp or a frog”—chin up, old chap. It’s the fighting spirit that propels him, from the artwork that squares up to Viva La Vida (2008) through to the fury behind Woodward’s punchlines, and helps get him through his dark night, allowing him to sign off with the string-clad “Toot Toot.” It’s a kind of fucked-up “Frogs’ Chorus” that mixes acrid polka into McCartney’s sing-along just as the Delgados’ “Child Killers” brought bile to “Imagine,” and lets him bow out with an evil grin that steals glances at a rosier future.
It’s difficult to say what the real future holds for Lord Cut-Glass outside of these little blasts of redemption. Chemikal Underground may very well have been building to this point for years, back when Cut-Glass The Younger first exclaimed “let’s found a record label, mofos,” but the imprint is cursed with being shunned by the mainstream—a tragedy considering the power laid down in these essays from hardened characters and the way the label can pick up the fallen. Still, the last thing you want is for Rick Rubin to be booked giving studio pep-talks, barking orders at broken musicians while ripping open another glass phial. Cut-Glass and chums may all still be destined to work second jobs throughout the peak of their sales but it in no way detracts from their output, making for some dazzling and riotous recordings while the world thinks Kings of Leon are indie. Real anarchy rarely sounds this ornate, and Woodward has pulled a lively double-bluff in playing it even straighter than his cinematic namesake. Edward Woodward found out the hard way. In the end, the ones with lit torches win.