Who would have thought that a practically unheard of band with a shitty name from the rock ‘n’ roll wasteland of Newcastle, U.K., would produce the ironic generation’s answer to the Modern Lovers and the Violent Femmes? Off-kilter, socially satirical folk-punk has a history that goes as far back as Jonathan Richman’s first trip to New York, and Les Cox (Sportifs) have tapped into the ethos with enough wit, weirdness and spite to create a work that may very well stand up there with the giants of the genre.
Although this breed of punk is more timeless than others — as long as there are outsider weirdos, Jonathan Richman will still be a hero — each generation has seen its own personal slant. The Modern Lovers mocked the ’70s, coke-sniffing triumphs and bureaucratic stooges, and the Violent Femmes personified the ’80s indie kid who got picked on and couldn’t get just one fuck. The closest equivalent for the ’90s were the Presidents of the Unites States of America, who were self-conscious of their history and poked fun at rock greats in addition to rock fans.
Les Cox (Sportifs), however, are a band burned out from that irony, a band that realizes that hipsters have strayed too far into their own bullshit, and that indie bands are now leaving us cold. It would be easy to write a blatantly anti-hipster album. The genius of Neverheed, a ballsy album name to say the least, is that it uses the tools of hipsterism — passive aggression, irony, innuendo — to throw that movement under a bus.
There’s a fair amount of bullshit to be found on the album, with a lyrics sheet that is suggestive at best and stream-of-consciousness musings that are thrown in out of nowhere. But all the bullshit here is weaponized, be it “Dresden,” a confusion of a political song and love song that is best represented by the chorus, “If bombs were love/ Then you can call me Dresden.” There’s also the sexual ambiguity of “Les Cox Special”: Are they beating off, seducing a woman, or abusing a woman? “Permanent Marker” begs for a time when things actually mattered, but it uses intelligence and subtext to avoid rock nostalgia.
The folksy, simplistic sound masks just how incendiary an album Neverheed is. The album is like a dirty bomb hidden in a PBR can. That said, there’s enough good cheer to let some people overlook its hidden meaning. Don’t be one of those people.