Monday, September 15, 2008

We'll Leave the Unicorns Behind

How great is the new Ballboy album? I've seen them play twice this summer, both with a full band and just Gordon, but still I was not quite prepared for what is I Worked On the Ships. I heard it in its entirety for the first time today, and I was on my bike on the way to school, and then coming back. First at midday, it felt like two years ago, walking up Great George Street for morning lectures in the Boyd Orr building on sunny September mornings. Now, the wind in my face as I pull up on the quay outside my department at Malmö University. Then later this afternoon, with almost an Edinburgh chill in the wind. Glasgow, Malmö and Edinburgh - universities, harbour cities, me, and Ballboy.

It was the perfect way to hear the record, it seemed. Neatly halved into an A and B side. Or a Going Out side, and a Coming Back side. Listening to a record should be like undertaking a journey, and I like records that are made with that journey in mind. "Walking home and you're on your own, and the mobile phone has no news at all". The cellos mixing with the wind brushing past my ears, the drum beats coalescing with the bumps from acorns under the tires, the guitar strummed up and down along with the revolutions of the pedals. And Gordon's voice sounding in my ears, as if he was right next to me. I've always liked how he sings - you know how some Ballboy songs are like anthems that you could shout at the top of your lungs, but he never does? - it just a perfectly plaintive voice. And the lyrics really stood out, and I was once again struck by his genius. That some of it was mishearings (I checked the lyric sheet after I came home) doesn't really matter. Like the title of this post (guess what was on my mind).

I tried to think back to the first time I heard a Ballboy record, to remember if the experience was as much of a revelation as this. It would have been Club Anthems 2001, and maybe it was as revelational - but in a different way. Humour seems a lesser element now.

So strap your armour on your chest
Buckle up your chain-mail vest

What better than to walk this land

with the boy who knows you best?

These lines are from "Disney's Ice Parade", one of my favourites on the record, its sheer beauty shining forth through an arrangement of just ukulele and harmonica. "Songs For Kylie" is already a new live favourite. "A Relatively Famous Victory" is a new epic tale of uncertain love. It's their best recorded album so far and one of the songs they've really succeeded with is
"We Can Leap Buildings and Rivers, But Really We Just Want to Fly".

It’s a pale summer’s night and your lips should be on mine
Your heart should be beating the same beat as mine

I don't need to tell you how great it is. We can play The Beatles and The Who, but really we just want to listen to Ballboy.

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