With their self-titled debut album, Warrington's Man and the Echo have condensed modern Britain into forty minutes of stunning pathos. Lead singer and lyricist, Gaz Roberts, is clearly a wry observer, in the mould of Morrissey, Guy Garvey or Jarvis Cocker, bristling with the socialist conscience of Billy Bragg. If a song 'has to be about something tangible', as Roberts recently opined, then this diverse collection of songs is about as solid as it gets. Even if you miss half the lyrics, which would be remiss, you've got eleven blinding pop songs to enjoy here.
Their output has been described as 'Trojan Horse' music, often toe-tapping tunes concealing hard home truths. Stylistically, the album draws together rich elements of glam, indie, northern soul, blue-eyed soul, Beatles, Bowie, and some glorious Smiths guitar and bass embellishments throughout. The opening track, "Distance Runner", is a galloping Divine Comedy/Style Council hybrid, dedicated to the unappreciated beauties of Roberts' native 'ragged region'. Factories, railways, and defaced walls are celebrated - a string of urban, post-industrial images that optimistically create a homely 'pathway that's made of desire'. The floor-filler "Operation Margarine" gives us Nile Rogers guitars, hi-hats and disco claps, whilst exposing how governments cynically try to distract us from bigger problems by admitting smaller faults instead.
Modern scourges of poverty, snobbery and drudgery dominate. "Care Routine" is a manic two minutes thirty-eight, frenzied by relentless guitar, bass, drums and piano. It starkly lists the financially unrewarding, oppressive daily responsibilities of a care giver that recur exhaustingly 'over and over'. "On Holidays" depicts a pitiable desk jockey's annual leave as 'living in the present a week a year', gloating emptily about his photos via social media 'like a cooked pig in sh*t' forever after. The painful reality that work can dictate your existence is paramount in "Room with a View", as the ironic 'what a life to choose' sums up a lonely, dark overnighter in a nondescript city hotel. In the soulful, melancholic "Very Personally Yours", all your tawdry, disapproving, whispering relatives turn up at your wedding reception and turn their nose up at your new spouse.
It's insightful and intelligent, yet never overbearing. Taking your band name from a Yeats poem, or prominently alluding to essays by French linguistic philosophers ("Operation Margarine") might appear to the uninitiated as dry and clever-arsed, but the charm and appeal of this album is just how down-to-earth, urbane and relevant to modern life it feels. If you met it down the pub, you'd have a belter of a night in so many ways.
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