Written by: Dave Cantrell
OK yeah I’m way late with this (Maisieworld came out Feb 9th on Tapete) but it being The Monochrome Set, they of slithery motivations maneuvering forever through a hall of funhouse mirrors, does it really matter? This could have been released thirty-three yesterdays past tomorrow and it would make no difference from any angle on any calendar. No double entrendre intended here but The Monochrome Set are undateable. Paradoxically, perhaps, it’s their central charm.
It isn’t that what they do is timeless, exactly, but more that it tends to exist outside the more commonly drawn temporal bounds. This is primarily down to their trafficking in a thematic conundrum best described as a devotional irreverence. The Set, you see, are eternally and passionately engaged with the comical fact that all this serious businsess of life is fleetingly – and fatally – temporary, an impression gleanable well before Bid’s scuffle with death a few years back though surely that episode couldn’t help but rime the cup of folly with even pithier zest. Having situated themselves from the beginning at this coordinate where, against all odds, the immediate and the untouchable somehow intersect, then honed and buffed that perch to a charismatic shine ever since (not least since the latest reboot in 2010), they have, rather cunningly I’d say, left themselves immune to irrelevance. The world’s never not ripe for another album from The Monochrome Set.
Now of course it doesn’t hurt that, whatever the iteration – Lester in, Lester out (as now), John Paul Moran out, John Paul Moran in (as now) – the band’s pop reflexes are as deeply, well, reflexive as anyone writing standard-but-advanced rock compositions these days. Confection-like but only in the way of those exotic desserts where actual gold is sprinkled in, the work on a modern-day TMS record is infused with a sort of casual iridescence. And not to overly pedestal the guy but much of the credit for that mischievous inner glow in these songs and their sound quality must perforce flow to the singer, this album being fully Bid-written and Bid-produced (as the previous three have very nearly been). That established, however, this version of the group – Moran, Bid, Mike Urban and Andy Warren – seem between them, in musical blood brother fashion, to carry in their collective veins the entire fluid legacy of The Monochrome Set stretching through pause and play all the way back to their Dindisc origins.
Yes, it’s in the playfulness, the sense of unfettered delight their every track has more or less exuded since “He’s Frank” came spinning out of the firmament in 1978, in the sly and nimble wordplay – here, among much else, we get “so many other bridges to sigh” from “Don’t Wear That Look” and the hilarious scary description of “Mrs Robot'” #10 as “a wide-eyed crazy jackfruit” – in how they’re ever unafraid to employ your classic Songwriting 101 pop tropes when called for (the doo d-doo doo‘s of “Stage Fright” would be a prime, wonderfully shameless example), but really, to be honest, it’s just the whole damn record taken as a whole.
There is not, as there never is, a duff track to be had on Maisieworld. Sure, you’ll find favor with this track over another – I’ll take the strong-arming Dorian Gray tale of opener “Give Me Your Youth” over, say, the banjo-plucked pluck of the title track that closes the record – but the criteria of distinction sit precariously on thin ice, liable to shift from listen to listen. So, whether you lean this time toward the do-gooder rebuffing of “I Feel Fine (Really)” with its gallows humor swing (look for that buried baritone harmony in the song-ending chorus; gotta love those subtle, care-taking touches), “Cyber Son”‘s horn-parping drama pop, or maybe “Silence Is Rusty” because of its pre-punk 70’s studio rollick (this writer for one is thankful for the oblique reliving of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Only You Know and I Know”), you can be assured that the next time it’ll be the others mentioned variously up above or, almost certainly, what feels the most Set-esque of all on Maisieworld, “Oh Yes I’m Going to Be in Your Dreams Tonight” where the effortless pop mystique level is set to eleven if not twelve.
Because that’s just the way it is with a Monochrome Set record, isn’t it? In the end it’s not so much hit-and-miss as hit-and-hit, a truism of the highest – or at least most consistent – order that renders the length of time it takes anyone (ahem) to finally get around to hearing it immaterial.[But don’t be like Dave. Be smarter and hear it now by buying Maisieworld here] [Oh, and here, give this a listen as well. It’ll set you right…]