In an interview with The Quietus in 2012, Lawrence stated, “for me with music, you have to have a foot in the past and a foot in the present”. This makes sense with the new album by his latest project, Go-Kart Mozart, arriving the same week as reissues of his first band, Felt.
Mozart’s Mini Mart follows 2012’s On The Hot Dog Streets, a combination of new material and re-recorded songs from Denim’s aborted third album, Denim Take Over. It was his most ambitious release since Denim’s masterful Denim On Ice (the record of which Lawrence is most proud). Six years on, Lawrence returns with an extended version of the mini-album originally scheduled for the second half of 2012.
Mozart’s Mini Mart contains 17 songs, but unlike previous epics, Denim On Ice and On The Hot Dog Streets, it’s only 35 minutes long. It’s made up of short songs and skits that are in line with Denim’s whimsical and addictive compilation Novelty Rock, and Go-Kart’s first album, Instant Wigwam & Igloo Mixture. The scattershot approach has worked well for Lawrence, but sadly, it’s the reason this record is hard to love.
It starts well with, ‘Anagram of We Sold Apes’, which is an irresistible slice of slick 70s space disco. It recalls ‘Supermarket’ and his cover of Space’s ‘Running In The City’ from Novelty Rock. It’s brevity is a classic example of Lawrence needing only a couple of minutes to execute his ideas well. On last year’s single, ‘When You’re Depressed’ Lawrence sings of the signs of depression with his usual off-beat charm, “never cry, never laugh, never clean your teeth”. The harmonies on the chorus are a nice touch, whilst the music recalls the electro-glam of Denim’s best work.
Lawrence makes light of his troubled circumstances on, ‘Relative Poverty’. The bouyant music has a splash of Telex (one of the targets from, ‘Shut Up Sidney’ from Denim On Ice). It’s one of the songs that comes across as a rehash of Lawrence’s previous material. The same problem occurs on ‘Big Ship’, which sounds like Lawrence on auto-pilot.
The interludes Lawrence has perfected in the past (‘Drinkin Um Bongo’, ‘On A Building Site’, ‘Tampax Advert’, ‘Hip Op’ etc) are repeated without the same charm. ‘Knickers On The Line’ is not a song made for repeated listens. ‘Nub-End In A Coke Can’ doesn’t live up to its title and comes across as stale. ‘Farewell To Tarzan Holly’ is, again, the sound of Lawrence going through the motions.
‘A Black Hood On His Head’ is the darkest song here (and is arguably the darkest song he’s done). It’s the story of man about to be beheaded which is as bleak as it sounds. It comes across as a failed experiment — not knowing if it wants to be funny or serious. This was something he balanced well on his best album, Back In Denim.
There are moments that strike the right balance of what makes Lawrence a singular talent. His 2012 cover of Roger Whittaker‘s, ‘New World In The Morning’ re-appears here and is still a rush. ‘I’m Dope’ is Lawrence in glam-rock mode (‘Listening To Marmalade’, ‘Jane Suck Died In 77’) and is a satisfying 90 seconds. The schizophrenic, ‘Crokadile Rokstarz’ is exciting. It works as a bookend to On The Hot Dog Streets highlight, ‘Retro Glancing’ with the same urgent spoken vocal delivery. It shows Lawrence is still capable of sounding inspired. ‘A Man Of Two Sides’ is an impressive 45 seconds of Madness-inspired pop that quickly morphs into a brilliant disco synth solo. It has the neat trick of ending way too soon.
When Lawrence disbanded Felt at the end of the 80s, he came back with a sound that was different to everything he’d done before, yet was equally fantastic. It’s probably unfair to expect that kind of change again, but I’d at least expect something of consistent quality. This disappointing album is a rare misstep in his glorious career, so it won’t taint his legacy as one of our greatest songwriters. But right now, I’m sticking with his past instead of his present.