Cornershop

England Is a Garden

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AllMusic Review by

Cornershop may have taken an eight-year break from releasing albums between 2012's Urban Turban: The Singhles Club and 2020's England Is a Garden, but they certainly weren't idle. Between running their label Ample Play, supporting political causes, and issuing an easy listening version of their 1993 record Hold On It Hurts (titled Hold On It's Easy), the duo of Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres definitely had a lot going on. Amidst this whirl of activity, they also spent a great deal of time and effort writing and recording songs -- right around 40 in the end. After narrowing it down to the best of the batch and giving them a polish, they titled the sparkling result England Is a Garden. It's their most cohesive and powerful record yet, full of songs that have a hearty punch to go along with their typically sharp hooks. Alternating between tracks that have a driving, T. Rex-ian beat and rollicking mid-tempo groovers, the record is a blast of joyous rock & roll from start to finish. It kicks off with one of their best songs, the stomping, glammy "St Marie Under Canon," then delivers one bracing shot after another. Sometimes Stones-tough and swaggering ("No Rock Save in Roll," "I'm a Wooden Soldier"), sometimes more gentle and pastoral (the flute- and sitar-led "Highly Amplified"), and always about one second away from knocking out another hit to rival "Brimful of Asha" (like on the breezy "The Cash Money" or the sun-dappled rocker "One Uncareful Lady Owner").

No matter the variation, Cornershop are a perfect balance of being tight as a screw turned one too many times and looser than a politician's lips after one too many. Singh produces the record with wrangling skills as pronounced as those of a prize-winning border collie. Each song is loaded with all sorts of backing vocals, traditional Indian instruments, vintage synths, string sections, horns, and woodwinds that could have been a mess but instead are blended together with a masterful precision. Overall, it's an exceedingly warm sound that almost renders the heartfelt political lyrics a secondary concern (except for when they can't be ignored, as on "Everywhere That Wog Army Roam"). Even if one manages to miss the details, it's easy to catch the drift and impossible not to hear England Is a Garden as an example of the brilliance that can occur when cultures come together to create something new and beautiful instead of clashing. Cornershop's music has always been proof of this, and many of their albums have come close to greatness. One -- When I Was Born for the 7th Time -- even came close to perfection. What this album has that those didn't is laser-like focus and the accumulated skill and experience gained from working together towards a goal for almost three decades. After a few listens to England Is a Garden, it's hard not to think that they have finally hit the target right in the center and reached their very particular and unique brand of perfection.

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