Bury St Edmunds is no place to raise sons they'll only grow old before time
You know what, the single and opening track Toyboy is the worst song here. Not to say it's that bad, actually. The arrangement just a wee bit to clunkily obvious for my liking despite the lyrics swaying camply around like a drunken Simon Dee at Butlins. Rather, it does not adequately represent what is often an honest and witty album, with a very British take on the way relationships pan out; though that wasn't too difficult to deduce from the album's title, which is, (as if you needed reminding only five or so lines into this review) called Exes.
Nothing in Common is more like it, the incredibly acerbic lyrics set over a lot of technical bleeping and thumping. It doesn't half remind me of Soft Cell's Martin at times; Mr. Stafford it seems, shares a taste with Marc Almond for publicly inspecting the entrails of his relationships through the medium of song. In It on Your Own is a spooky mooch that has a surprisingly uplifting refrain, despite the song's story-line being another cine verite tale of woe and mutual loathing. Ex Boyfriends are the Bane of my Life is a male crie de cour that hasn't been better expressed by any other artist I can think of; it's a song that clicks on other levels too, possessing as it does an anthemic chorus and nice whiney guitar break. I do like the way it goes for the emotional jugular; particularly funny is Mr Stafford's list of promises to his new beau; (I won't spoil it by telling you any of them, you'll just have to buy the cd and listen).
The Hard Way harks back to Britpop with it's guitar laden chorus and Scott Walker-isms. The lyrics are, once again, incredibly, achingly, soul-bearing in their content. He loves to be painted "warts and all", does our Mr S. The lines "Either way she'll find out another way / that I'm a bastard", had me laughing out loud, just for their reckless bravura. Opportunity Cost is actually the best track on the album, drawing as it does Spector-esque choruses and bittersweet emotions. There is a line in it when the singer sees the girl walk away on the rival's arm; a sentiment not expressed in popular song since, ohh, 1962?
Free from You opens like it's off For Your Pleasure, then expands into a very lovelorn chorus that once again, is erm, very honest and soul-bearing. Just get this line; "I was unfaithful to you four times / but you know the reason why..." Golly.
I Can't Hear (one of three live tracks on here) is short but sweet and possesses nice loud guitars. The Best Way to Live is to Grow is an enjoyable confessional with echoey guitar runs, offset by a xylophone, the only one I can remember on a record since the Bunnymen's My White Devil.
Nothing in Common then returns as a jumpy reprise, before the whole album drops down in pace to Claustrophobia; the most Soft Cell moment on the album. Not that that, in any way in itself, is a bad thing at all. Sonically speaking it's a really nice release of steam after all the hystrionics, reliant as it is on a grumbling old synth and chiming guitar run. Why Does this Keep Happening to Me, the second live outing on Exes, is a jaunty, very enjoyable semi acoustic number that has a feral charm. Mr Stafford at one point rather worryingly breaks into some Lonnie Donnegan style hollering. Somehow he keeps it all in check.
The Other Side of the World is a mawkish tale of lost love and jet-setting (I think) set up as a grand finale, lots of squelchy anthemic guitars and thumping beats Bury St Edmunds, the last track and the third live outing, is a lovely paeon to a childhood heroine, "Bury St Edmunds is no place to raise sons they'll only grow old before time" is, quite possibly, my fave lyric of the year, (thus far, may I add).
So, there you have it. By turns funny, bathetic, surprising and honest. All in all a very worthwhile album to possess, methinks.
Words: Richard Foster