Michael Head

Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Dear Scott (Modern Sky)

As a Liverpool fan he may not appreciate the comparison but, like Real Madrid in this year’s Champions League, you write off Mick Head at your peril. 2017’s comeback album Adios Senor Pussycat was, by his own admission, somewhat disappointing – the songs were mostly lacking the usual magic, Mick’s voice sounded tired, the album sounded like it had been recorded on a Nokia 3310 – to the point where one might’ve feared that The Greatest Songwriter in Britain had lost his mojo. Ah but Mick, how could we ever doubt you – Dear Scott finds the great man right back on top form, on an album that ranks right alongside his finest work.

Opener ‘Kismet’ dismisses any reservations in its opening seconds, a bouncy, jangly delight, the sound warm and clear, and Mick sounding in rude health, giving seemingly throwaway lines like “It’s getting cold – can’t wait to put my arms around your shoulders” an emotional punch that only someone with his back story can.

The first half of Dear Scott is a throwback to Shack’s ‘pop’ period, a set of glorious northern guitar pop that evokes the glories of Waterpistol and HMS Fable. Anthemic single ‘Broken Beauty’ has a chorus that most songwriters would die for, Head singing “People try to put you down – they won’t win” over soaring brass & strings and you’re already hailing this AOTY even though you’re only two tracks in. The folky ‘The Next Day’ brings flutes and ba-ba-bas to the party. And best of all there’s the gorgeous ‘American Kid’, Head’s tribute to an old Hollywood-obsessed friend who turned out to be secretly trans (“You were born in a highrise in Kirby/Go to work as Eddie, go to bed as Kathy Kirby”), and one of those pop moments like ‘Comedy’ and ‘Cup of Tea’ that, in some much more sensible alternate universe, would be national treasures.

The second half of the album harks back to Shack’s finest hour, 2003’s faultless …Here’s Tom With the Weather, all cosmic Scouserdom, dreamy nostalgia, shifting time signatures and jazzier arrangements that almost hint at the unannounced hand of much-missed brother John. The beautiful ‘Fluke’ sees Head on a Hollywood homes-of-the-stars tour, sensing the melancholy in Tinseltown (“The boulevards are fractured dreams…”) to a gorgeous, string laden waltz. ‘The Grass’ is spooky desert folk which lurches briefly into a ‘Seventh Seal’ gallop (The ‘Scott’ of the title is Fitzgerald, but in this case it could equally be Walker) before a truly stunning coda, Head plaintively singing “They’ll take you away, far far away” over haunting cello. It’s a high watermark in a career that isn’t exactly short of them. Anthemic waltz ‘The Ten’ sees Head on his old bus route into town, throwing fruit around the market with his kid brother, whilst the wistful guitar pop of ‘Pretty Child’ is reminiscent of John’s contributions to Here’s Tom, particularly ‘Miles Away’.

Ex-Coral man Bill Ryder-Jones’ production gives these magnificent songs the lush treatment they deserve, whilst Head’s young band sound like they’re finally on his wavelength, and longtime Head-heads will be absolutely ecstatic to hear this genuine legend right back on top of his game. Here’s Tom was my album of the 00s; looks like Mick may well have just made my album of the 20s.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.