There’s something brutally Sisyphean about Grey Hairs musical endeavours to date. For a band who’ve already released two well received LPs, stuffed with inventive garage punk-rock (2015’s Colossal Downer and 2017’s Serious Business), and who’ve played to some big audiences via various Sleaford Mods support slots, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’d managed to push their metaphorical boulder to the top of the mountain and have the luxury of being full-time musicians. Sadly though, this isn’t the case. With some members of the band ensconced in the warm yet stifling bosom of public sector jobs, there’s a struggle at the heart of Grey Hairs. Just how do you create art whilst simultaneously shoving the big shitty rock of full-time employment up the ever increasing gradient of middle-age? It’s an absolute fucking head scratcher to be sure.
Whilst many musicians would hang up their instruments if faced with this conundrum, the nine-to-five grind seems to have infused Grey Hairs with a dark and grimly humorous sense of purpose. This darkness runs through their new album, Health & Social Care, like a geological fault line, with the ten songs that make up the LP sharing a churning, spittle drenched quality that make for an intriguing listen. The questions are though, do the songs on Health & Social Care measure up to the exemplary standards set by the first two Grey Hairs albums, and could this be the release that finally catapults the band over the summit?
For the first minute or so of album opener ‘Hydropona’, a discordant squall of guitars and throb of drums create an uneasy sense of foreboding. For the listener, It’s like standing at the open doorway of a serial killer’s house. The sensible, rationale part of you wants to run away, but the idiot part of your brain just wants to cross the threshold and see what horrors await. As the sticky-as-molasses bass guitar kicks in, and front man James Finlay’s yelping vocals hook into you like darts of painful pleasure, there’s no going back. You’re trapped. Those Grey Hairs bastards have got you…
It’s testament to the power of Grey Hairs writing skills, that a song about the act of having a number one could be so powerful. From the PR blurb, ‘Piss Transgressor’ is about (and I’m paraphrasing, possibly wrongly here) the discomfort and shame that men feel when standing and micturating next to one-another, balanced with an unconscious desire to cross waz streams like the fucking Ghost-Busters, in a effort to recapture lost youth. If this is indeed the message of the song, then it deserves an Ivor Novello award, but even more impressive, is that musically, ‘Piss Transgressor’ wouldn’t sound out of place as an early 1990s Sub Pop singles club release. It really is just one of those tunes that makes you want to wear a plaid shirt and play air guitar like no is watching. Utterly, ridiculously brilliant.
On an album filled with bucket loads of sturm und drang, ‘Tail to Teeth’ proves to be a moment of relative levity amongst its beefier sounding siblings. As the song begins, it almost sounds like it’s going to be a mucky cover of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, but morphs very quickly into something from an abandoned David Lynch movie soundtrack. With reverb laden, 1950s guitars, it sounds for all the world like Chris Isaak has broken into the recording studio and dicked about with the master tapes. A true moment of twisted pop music genius that vies strongly for best-song-on-the-album status.
Another moment of genius, but for different reasons is the recent taster for the album, ‘Tory Nurse’. Like the school bully who dishes out slow, protracted Chinese burns, ‘Tory Nurse’ is a throughly evil bastard, which slithers and shuffles into your subconscious. When James Finlay sings “Right now we’re slowly switching off/Can’t stop this calibration”, you may not have a fucking clue about what he’s talking about, but the delivery will turn your bowels to ice. The video for ‘Tory Nurse’ doesn’t help matters either, with the unsettling sight of a poor clown about to be executed and buried in the middle of nowhere – an image that burrows itself deep into the part of the noggin that produces nightmare fuel.
Health & Social Care finishes with ‘Glugs’. With a snake hipped bass line and a guitar hook that verges on the indecent, ‘Glugs’ is one of those songs that demands to be played on a loop at full mad-bastard volume, and only stopped when the neighbours threaten to call the police. An absolutely roaring end to a rather extraordinary LP.
Grey Hairs have gone and done it again then, producing yet another album that in a sane world would effortlesly feature on all the end-of-year best-of lists, and sell by the shit-load. Perhaps Health & Social Care will be the breakthrough release that allows the group to concentrate wholly and exclusively on music. I truly hope so, because if this is the work of part-timers, I fucking quiver to think about what they’d produce without the shackles of the nine-to-five grind holding them back.
Health & Social Care is released on 02/08/19 on Gringo Records