Bob Dylan, 2Pac, Morrissey, Notorious BIG, Ivor Cutler, Missy Elliott, Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, Sam Cooke, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Eminem, Alex Turner. What do they have in common? We have heard each one of them described by the media, for better or worse, as a lyrical genius. Whilst you may agree or strongly disagree in some of these cases, there is no doubt it’s a phrase that gets used a little too often. Each one of them, though, clearly has a style and ultimately a message they are trying to convey. Enter The Cool Greenhouse.
The Cool Greenhouse have been firm BTTB favourites since releasing the excellent Landlords single back in March 2019. We don’t tend to write about singles but Tom Greenhouse’s biting social commentary and deadpan delivery caught our attention. There is very much a “Cool Greenhouse approach” to music, which tends to involve the three “R”s: repetition, repetition and repetition. It’s the best tool for the job of accentuating the absurdist, political, wry observations on display and it is present almost constantly throughout.
Whilst in the wrong hands this could become tiresome, the band make the most of their two note riffs. Opener The Sticks uses synths to great effect. They whizz pop and drone in all directions while Greenhouse’s dry lyrics (delivered with tongue firmly in cheek and knowing wink almost visible) evoke inevitable reference point Mark E Smith. Greenhouse delivers matter of fact musings on small town Britain, paranoia, social media and a distrust of technology.
“a little camera in the shape of a bit of eggshell in the bread bin, surveillance wires disguised as bits of spaghetti down the side of the oven”.
It’s a constantly building, often hilarious 6 minutes.
Greenhouse takes political digs throughout. David “call me Dave” Cameron is the target on the cutting Cardboard Man.
“I’m a West Ham Supporter, or was it Aston Villa” and “when I see a pig’s head y’know I think of… nothing”.
Margaret Thatcher and Fidel Castro (although more sympathetically) are targeted on brilliant band manifesto Dirty Glasses. The politicians are picked out for how out of touch they were or became, while the band are there to give people a clear view. At least, this is our interpretation.
Gum truly embraces the monotonous. There’s two note dissonance, a sombre tone and a delightful account of buying “tables to remove the gum”. There’s something of the always brilliant Pheromoans in the humour. They pick up the pace again on the punchy Life Advice. The lyrics encapsulate vivid moments in which people bestow words of wisdom before the advice being ironically contradicted. It’s beautifully constructed. Musically it keeps things relatively simple apart from a busy bassline that drives the relentless groove.
Smile, Love! is a hip shaking, totally wired, shuffle taking aim at those whose values belong firmly in the past and hitting them right between the eyes. The subtext of the lyrics adds a satisfying extra layer. Taken at face value tracks like Trojan Horse are subtly surreal but there is always an underlying social commentary.
There is something a little prophetic about the following track ,4Chan. The line “Well there’s no point in dressing, for these times” encapsulating lockdown life, while likely written a good while before. It picks apart the toxic nature of internet forums and imageboards, where anyone can say whatever they want regardless of the truth. This is set to another simple but clanging groove.
The album, despite dalliances in the surreal, is very firmly rooted in the real world. The relatively spritely, Fall-esque Prospects is mired in concerns about work and ambition. The slow building Outlines documents the drudgery of every day life, and what it means to be human.
This nicely sets up the lyrically bizarre finale Subletters Pt. 2, a collaboration with Melbourne favourites The Shifters. It’s sparse, filled with crooked noises and a wonderfully slap dash guitar solo.
This self-titled debut album is so lyrically savvy it begs you to spend time with it, to invest in its messaging and educate yourself as to its references. Opinions are offered and stories told, often steeped in metaphor. There are multiple layers of reward and satisfaction for the listener. While the music provides a fitting backdrop, it will be interesting to see whether this expands or becomes more elaborate as the band progresses. Not that it necessarily should. Listen on repeat, repeat, repeat.
You may enjoy this if you like: The Fall, Life Drawings, LCD Soundsystem, The Rebel, Flameproof Moth