When in Rome, Kill Me

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With a not-tripping-off-the-tongue title combined with a cover shot of a grimacing middle-aged man looking towards the camera, an open briefcase of money behind him, it's no surprise that When in Rome initially made Cud seem like they'd never leave the world of weird indiedom. Puttnam's instantly recognizable voice provides the best anchor to more familiar, later efforts, his unstereotypically soulful wail in full effect. The band assays a variety of different styles throughout the record, from scrabbling semi-punk catchiness to riff-heavy, funk-tinged efforts -- Dunphy's guitar work isn't as distinct as it would later be, but tries its best, while the rhythm section makes a fair enough noise. The too-quiet mix probably does the band in more than anything else, a more than slightly murky effort which often sets everything back from the mike a bit, especially the drums. It gets better as it goes, happily, as "Wobbly Jelly" and "Vocally Speaking" show. In many ways the quartet's debut is an extended musical joke -- definitely the case with the title track, which is actually a side-long effort broken up into seven individual songs connected by brief skits from a satiric condensed version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. One part was also a single, "Only a Prawn in Whitby," a cello-tinged, rushed effort that slots into Smiths territory in ways (and was supposedly inspired by an encounter with Morrissey) is a great display for Puttnam's witty lyrics and the band's incipient sense of drama. Another memorable effort comes courtesy of the quick crunch of "Epicurean's Answer," both a manifesto and a sassback to critics. "I've Had it With Blondes," besides having a hilarious title, works in piano and some good Dunphy noise into the mix, not to mention a reference or two to the notorious fake cult the Church of the Sub-Genius, a longtime Puttnam fascination.

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