Half Man Half Biscuit

CSI: Ambleside

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Liverpool's own Half Man Half Biscuit have settled into quite a comfortable groove -- 24 casually brilliant years into their career and still featuring basically the same lineup they started with -- releasing a new album every three years or so, playing a spate of concerts around the same time, and then going home to their Tranmere Rovers games and singer/songwriter Nigel Blackwell's well-documented daytime TV habits. The indolence works for them, clearly, since 2005's Achtung Bono turned out to be the band's best album since 1985's semi-legendary Back in the D.H.S.S. The follow-up, CSI: Ambleside (Ambleside is a quaint tourist town in the Lake District; an American equivalent would be, say, CSI: Mayberry), is not quite up to those standards, but it's yet another solid outing. If anything, Blackwell's lyrics have taken a turn toward more overtly funny topics and titles. Songs include "Bad Losers on Yahoo! Chess" (a self-explanatory rant about impoliteness on the Internet), "Took Problem Chimp to Ideal Home Show" (gleefully imagining a hail of destruction rained down upon U.K. TV home show presenters Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Carol Smillie, set to a tongue-in-cheek funk beat), "Lord Hereford's Knob" (a wistful folk ballad about the collapse of the class system), and "National Shite Day" (again, fairly self-explanatory). Elsewhere, the minute-long "Petty Sessions" is a brief catalog of the small annoyances of everyday life (including "Facebook mums/YouTube dads" and pizza shops that misspell "Hawaiian" in their menus) set to the tune of "The Hokey Pokey," continuing Blackwell's fondness for repurposing familiar bits of music for his own cranky ends. The production is slightly better than usual, almost approaching polished in spots, though the scratchy and punk-influenced arrangements stay true to the band's C-86 roots. And as always, the cover art is hilarious, with a spread of "Back catalogue gems and forthcoming releases" featuring genially smutty jokes based on vintage LP covers including Ewan "Shagger" MacColl's hit "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Mate." The only band out of its scene still recording today, Half Man Half Biscuit have quietly become a small national treasure, though thankfully as far as they're concerned, they're still a bunch of underemployed layabouts having a laugh. Bless 'em.

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