Half Man Half Biscuit

Achtung Bono

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Who could have guessed in 1985 that not only would Half Man Half Biscuit be the only one of the then-current crop of U.K. indie guitar bands -- those retroactively and often erroneously referred to as C-86 bands -- still recording in more or less their original incarnation, but that they would also release one of their finest albums a full 20 years after The Trumpton Riots. Achtung Bono is a start-to-finish joy that combines all of singer/songwriter Nigel Blackwell's ongoing themes: small town British life, the vagaries of popular culture, taking the piss out of the often self-important British indie rock scene, and the forms and themes of his beloved traditional country and folk music. There's also a greater level of warmth for his characters on the part of the notoriously acerbic Blackwell, best captured in the spirited album closer "We Built This Village on a Trad. Arr. Tune." Besides tweaking the pompous Starship hit of the mid-'80s, the brilliantly dense, punning lyrics are downright affectionate in their portrayal of the quirks of the town's residents. Not that Blackwell has lost his edge: "Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo" castigates the Libertines so thoroughly that Pete Doherty probably cried when he heard it. It also includes a verse so magnificently Blackwellesque that it deserves quoting in full: "If you're going to quote from the Book of Revelation/Don't keep calling it 'The Book Of Revelations'/There's no 's' - it's the Book of Revelation/As revealed to Saint John the Divine/See also: Mary Hopkin/She must despair." Add in the brief reworking of the football terrace chant "You only sing when you're winning" -- copping bits of folk tunes and jingles is a long-held HMHB tradition -- and "Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo" could be the quintessential Half Man Half Biscuit song. That is, aside from the equally brilliant "Joy Division Oven Gloves," a daffy bit of sardonic surrealism that sounds weirdly prescient since early 2007 when sneaker manufacturer New Balance introduced a limited-edition trainer that uses the cover art from Unknown Pleasures as a design motif. Add in moderately sincere lost love tunes like "For What Is Chatteris" and pop culture japes like "The Mate of the Bloke Who Set Up the PA" and Achtung Bono is a strong contender for Half Man Half Biscuit's best work yet.

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