(2 CD, Overground)
In our imaginations there exists a library of music that sounds unlike anything else. It is an ill-defined collection, with nebulous parameters linked by nothing more than a sense of singularity. Like much within the psyche it rarely overlaps with what we generally recognise as reality. Where such intersections do occur – if we are lucky, or especially imaginative, a group such as the Cravats drops through into the corporeal realm.
Indeed, so singular are the Cravats that the use of comparative terms – ‘such as’, ‘like’ – become redundant. There are the Cravats and there is everything else. Which is all very well, except that the use of comparison is a cornerstone of most reviews. Generally, one simply cites a number of groups, or a fanciful hybrid of several bands, and signs that off on the basis that it ought to be sufficient to give anyone who’s listened to some rock’n’roll the gist of what’s going down. Take that option away and we’re left with having to use descriptive terms drawn from outside the medium, or worse still, our imaginations. Otherwise we’d end up rattling on about how the Cravats are different from everybody else in a different way to the manner in which the Fall are different from everybody else – which, accurate a statement though it may be, tells you precisely fuck all.
All this being so, the reviewer is compelled to generate ideas – Which is entirely appropriate, given the sheer density of thought spread across this genuinely bumper two disc set. Listening to Chuck Warner’s restoration of the original album and Small Wonder singles, it becomes obvious why the group where such favourites of John Peel. Their rejection of orthodoxy and restless questing to incorporate ideas and styles drawn from anywhere but the hermetically sealed capsule of rock’n’roll was not only sufficient to attract and sustain the attention of that most discerning of DJs, but also marked the band out as being among the true avatars of what we now recognise as post punk.
In the case of the Cravats, any rejection of the narrow confines of what had gone before was no contrived manifesto or pretentious stance, it was simply how they were. As with all genuinely original talents, the band were simply organically different, able to whip up cohesive discordance, puckishness, creeping/rolling fogbanks of sound, existential whimsy, notions of Englishness, lust, repression, brooding claustrophobia, paranoia, insinuating hooks and nagging repetition in equal measure. In addition to constructing songs wherein a greater than usual amount of thought resulted in a fecundity of ideas, the Cravats fired cruise missiles through the collective consciousness, launched from silos of newtown neurosis. ‘In Toytown’ is a keeping quilt of textures and warped, mutated evocations. The contemporaneous singles similarly unique, counter intuitively combining both restraint and abandon to produce kitchen sinkhole vignettes such as ‘Gordon’ and the thunderous, Levantine-infused brilliance of ‘Precinct’. The five seven-inches collected here depict a band moving away from the backbeat, charting a development from ramalama to dada.
Having revisited this material, it became difficult to see what could be added to such a singular and irresistible corpus of work. I figured the second disc would be an engaging adjunct to its sources, and as such would serve to place a tasty cherry upon the desirable rum baba set before us by Overground. However, Penny Rimbaud’s ‘re-imagining’ of the album serves to give new cohesion and texture to ‘In Toytown’. The production is fatter, brighter and cleaner, and as one might imagine – given his jazz influences – Rimbaud brings Svor Naan’s sax to the fore. Aside from some minor reordering and the inclusion of ‘When Will We Fall’ and ‘Who’s In Here With Me’, the key element of ‘Alice’s Adventures…’ is the addition of an Alice In Wonderland style narrative, voiced effectively by Gracie McGee. This is no mere bridging device, the Alice character interacts with the songs with wit and style adding additional vocals to ‘XMP’ and generally adding more ideas to what was already an ideas reservoir.
This is a special collection that does justice to a unique band in a fittingly considered manner and I’ll be amazed if any reissue that floats down the pipe this year comes anywhere close to it.
The Cravats In Toytown/Alice Adventures In Toytown is set for release on 6 August.