To say I have been excited about the prospect of the new Inspector Tapehead album would be a MASSIVE understatement, like saying the Great Wall Of China was a ‘a decent size’ or Katie Price ‘likes to have the odd picture taken’. After hearing the unbelievably good ‘Pherenzik Tear’ last year, a moment which will live long in PodcART memory for rendering myself, Halina and Ally completely speechless, the anticipation has built until finally two weeks ago I got my copy from the legend who sometimes goes by the name Jonnie Common. Could it really live up to my own internal hype?
‘When Duress Code opener ‘Sugar On Your Sheets’ kicks up with multi-layered vocals singing a melody reminiscent of ‘You Are My Sunshine’, I have to admit that I was concerned, and a little bit confused. When the intro gives way to the main part of the song, a distorted bass and phat drumbeat ‘cow-punk’ stompathon ensues. There is a huge country element to this and it jars the senses. This is NOT what I was looking for. This is not what I expected.
The country theme continues with second song ‘Yarvil’, but all of a sudden everything seems different. It becomes apparent that, ‘Sugar On Your Sheets’, was designed to blow away the cobwebs, to not meet your expectations but to set new ones. The fact it jar’s is because it sounds so different to anything else, Inspector Tapehead aren’t playing you a collection of songs, they are creating a sonic universe where what they do makes sense. Much like Neo learning how to function in the construct part of The Matrix, Inspector Tapehead have invented a place where what they do musically will make sense. They have given themselves the space to play whatever they want and to take chances that would never work in the conventional world, but in the Tapehead universe anything goes.
‘Yarvil’ is absolutely stunning. It contains a melodic, musical refrain rather than a vocal chorus. This serves to highlight the vivid lyrical style which is at play throughout the album. “Jellyfish cannot see or hear [but] they still have feelings, light sensitivity to help them find their way” is just one example of the luscious couplets on show throughout. Seriously, you could randomly pick any point during the albums running time and immediately hear something at worst quirky or at best simply astounding.
By track 3, ‘Fillet of Bozo’, it really is time to admit defeat as the realisation comes that you cannot second guess what you are going to hear next. The stunningly simple yet melodically awkward arpeggio at the start of the song draws you in and sets you up for yet another change of pace when 2 minutes in the song goes tonto and breaks into the kind of country stomp which makes Duress Code one of the most unashamedly enjoyable and fun albums you have heard for years. The trick here is that the verses of the song could be corny or quaint but they aren’t. ‘Fillet Of Bozo’ falls into a brilliant sing-along chorus, kicking away the country beat to be replaced by an in your face ‘break’ and the brilliant lyric “Because it’s like my old chemistry set, we forget the fucking labels and the hope that we invented”, then comes yet another tempo change which perfectly falls away to release the stomping verses again.
Seriously, this isn’t like comparing some songs with food. This isn’t a three course meal as opposed to fast food. This is Heston fucking Blumenthal trying to reinvent the trifle using only raw coconut as an ingredient. Duress Code shames any songwriter who thinks doing something a bit different means starting a song with a chorus, or using some children’s toys. There is more imagination in the first 3 songs on the Tapehead album than Noel Gallagher has used in his entire career.
Next up is ‘Sam’ and this truly cements Duress Code not just as essential listening, but as one of the best debuts I have ever heard. The low-key opening bars are supplemented by a chorus of kazoos and then transformed into a polka. I kid you not, a fucking POLKA! Complete with vocal choir, banjo, the kitchen sink, detergent, even the microwave is thrown at the start of this beautiful nursery rhyme of a song which ends with the guitar and banjo quietly duelling with each other, each taking a turn to play the gorgeous melody before the drums come back in and bring the song home with one of the few examples of distorted guitar on the whole album.
And that is pretty much how Duress Code progresses, one song after another starting one direction and shooting off into unexpected rhythmic, lyrical and melodic directions. It is impossible to keep track of what is going on but seriously, why bother? This is about having fun. Duress Code is one of those magical musical experiences, the kind of album that you will learn something new from in five or ten year’s time when you discover a new lyric or a hidden keyboard part in a song you have heard a million times over. It is the antithesis of throwaway, downloadable pop music. This is built to last.
‘I Am Your Pedigree’ comes as a direct response to ‘Sam’, an apparently breezy stroll of indie/country/pop with yet another melodically memorable chorus and the stunning line , “If I was a whale I’d swim, in your bath tub, and I would sing, in low frequencies”. Jaunty, bright, catchy but still substantial, still rammed full of ideas, time changes and imagination. On and on the album goes, surprising the listener at every opportunity. ‘Grooming’ comes and goes as one of the more sober moments on the album, built around an absolutely gorgeous chord change, the song dissolves into a delicious instrumental progression that gets better, and better, and better. You will be praying they just keep going; the ending comes way too soon. These are the moments you pray for when you are listening to an album.
‘Listen With Your Ear’s, But Look Through A Telescope’ appears to be the most conventional song on Duress Code but it still has a marvellous, up-tempo work out in the middle of the song which gives way to a half-time ending and yet another lyrical thunderbolt, “cause the worst feeling you’ll ever know, is being coiled up like a slinky in a bungalow”.
Surprisingly, the album highlight is NOT ‘Pherenzic Tear’. ‘WCMJ’ is a breathtaking, beautifully crafted, five and a half minute long microcosm of Duress Code as a whole. Lovely country infused chords, simple, almost playground melodies, imaginative lyrics (“With one half of your mittens I have never been so complete..”), brilliant production, incredible musicianship and an instrumental breakdown so good, you cannot quite believe you are listening to, what is in effect, a debut album from an unsigned band.
Duress Code closes with the epic ‘Pherenzik Tear’, a slightly different version than the one you may have heard previously but don’t fear, the only noticeably changes are a beefed up drum sound and a slightly longer ending. In this case, more is definitely better. Finally to wrap things up we are left with ‘Pegswood’s Day In The Sun’, worthy of a place in The Go! Team’s litany, ‘Pegswood’ will go down a treat at any live shows where Inspector Tapehead care to roll up and throw their fit of uncontrolled glee at you.
I can think of few bands who have the talent to play a collection of songs this good never mind a collection of musicians who would have the imagination to write an album resembling Duress Code. It is a collection of songs that will make you shake your head and feet, it will make you smile and think in equal measure, but it never, ever lets the melodic heartbeat miss for one second. If the Super Furry Animals had released Duress Code as the follow up to Rings Around The World I have no doubt they would currently be employing Bill Gates as their admin assistant and Michael Schumacher as their tour bus driver.
Sean McCann (Lug-s)
Duress Code by Inspector Tapehead is available from Song By Toad Records. We suggest you buy it.