“BIG STIR RECORDS and SPYGENIUS are delighted to announce the June 24 release of JOBBERNOWL – a brand new album from the celebrated Canterbury, England masters of literate psych-infected pop rock – on CD and all digital platforms.”
That gem of a quote is the opening salvo in the press release for a delightful new album that I have been thoroughly enjoying. The band’s name is Spygenius, which sounds like something from a James Bond movie. The album’s name is Jobbernowl, which sounds like something from Through The Looking Glass. Bruno Pontecorvo has been called a spy genius, two words. The band merges the words into one, Spygenius. Jabberwocky is a nonsense poem penned by Lewis Carroll, which is very close to the name of this album, Jobbernowl.
Needless to say, I was hooked by the combination of the band’s name and the album title. I must confess that I prefer “The Walrus and the Carpenter” when it comes to nonsense poems. My dad used to recite one stanza from it that I now have on my office wall.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”
All of this preamble brings us to a few observations about the album.
# 1. What is a Jobbernowl?
There are 195 synonyms for Jobbernowl in the dictionary, which can be summed up as a blockhead. A blockhead and a jobbernowl are nice ways to call a person a stupid idiot.
#2. What is Spygenius?
Spygenius is a singer, guitarist and chief songwriter named Peter Watts.
Spygenius is Matt Byrne laying down the smooth keyboards for our listening pleasure.
Spygenius is a drummer Alan Cannings, and bassist, Ruth Rogers. These two keep everything on time.
I would be remiss, not to mention the cover art; Champniss. Cover art is one reason I like having the physical copy; in this case, it’s a CD. I want to be able to peruse the art and literature that gets lost in streaming media. I don’t know who Champniss is, but it is some trippy art reminiscent of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
#3. I got lost on some rabbit trails while doing research for this blog. I went from Jobbernowl to Jabberwocky, a nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll about the killing of a creature named “the Jabberwocky.” The poem was in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass.
#4. Then I took a left turn and listened to the band Ambrosia and their excellent self-titled album from 1975. The album opens with the song “Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” a poem by Kurt Vonnnegut Jr. that Ambrosia set to music. However, the link to this album, Jobbernowl, is the third song on side two. Yes, I am listening on a slab of vinyl, so there are two sides to play. That song is “Mama Frog,” which contains a narration of the poem Jabberwocky from ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ by Lewis Carroll.
#5. Can we get back to the topic, please? I will make no promises but here is an effort. I have listened to this album several times, and I kept asking myself what was connecting the neural dots that lit up every time I heard this album. I finally made the connection today. Sort of, maybe, I think. I listened to the album Seconds of Pleasure by the band Rockpile. Rockpile significantly influenced the new wave and pub rock scene in the late 70s and early 80s. They technically only released one album, but they have a considerable legacy. I won’t get too lost on this rabbit trail but suffice to say that when I listen to Jobbernowl, I can hear echoes of Rockpile and their all-star cast, as well as a few others from that era. Names like Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Ian Gomm, Elvis Costello, Brinsley Schwarz, and the list goes. Suffice to say that I consider it a compliment of the highest order that Jobbernowl sound similar to these musicians.
#6. Jobbernwl does not have your typical love songs, either lost or found. They have wise words that touch on many themes, from epistemology to nonsense. I have included a few examples below, the song’s names and quotes from the band cut and pasted in. I won’t put all the notes and quotes up here.
I Dig Your New Robes, Pierre!
“The “Robes, Pierre” thing is just punning on the name Robespierre.” Spygenius’ P.
SkyPie, Century 21
“is about actively deciding not to believe in someorotherbigidea, just because believing in something is sort of emotionally easier than admitting to yourself (and the world!) that you simply don’t know. And after all, Socrates said that all he knew was that he knew nothing, so I’m in reasonably good company here… and the use of anachronistic heptalk (and a bit of Cockney rhyming slang!) is a sort of poke at political nostalgia… that idea crops up more strongly later…”
“very, very British; it ended more like a mashup between Motown, Kirsty MacColl and Ringo Starr. The whole song is based around the short descending bass line in the bridges, which is a bit of nonsense that came to me one day whilst goofing about on Matthew’s guitar. I really wanted to turn it into something, and this is what it became.”
“…lots of books referenced here… and in the next song too… books I never got to discuss with my lovely friend who died…”
Foucault Swings Like a Pendulum Do
“Just a bit of nonsense to close the record, a gag tune based on a dreadful threeway pun… or possibly a labyrinthine series of misdirections intended to expose the futility of seeking absolute truth and the processes of sensemaking we go through to fill in the gaps when we don’t actually know… in effect it’s about conspiracy theories, I suppose…! …nods here to the Bonzos and the Tiger Lillies, and also a little bit to the Jazz Butcher and Stump… ah, bless ’em all…”
I am listening to Jobbernowl as I write this, and I cannot help but hear the influence of the new wave and the British pub rock scene. Spygenius are genius’ when it comes to making good music, including lyrics that keep me listening, if for no other reason than to try and understand what they are singing about. It’s not just the lyrics that draw me into their circle of influence; the musicianship is top drawer with Spygenius. These guys know how to mix good vocals with potent music.
I think that will suffice for my meandering rabbit trails. I will wind it all up and put a little note on that says, “Open on June 24, sit back in your comfy chair with a beverage of choice at hand, set the volume at a moderate level, and peruse the album artwork while you listen to this contender for the best album of 2022.