Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn continue to prick the bubbles of conformity, with another forensic journey into the dark heart and withered soul of this nation: a place sitting on the cusp of exiting from Europe, to the sleazy pleasure of capitalist benefit scammers, and ignorant nationalist flag wavers, alike.
While the hilarious, if rather aggressive, Derek & Clive style toilet humour of the past is mostly gone, Williamson remains as sharp as a pin, in dissecting the people of this nation, via his maximalist, hyper-real railings and unpleasant/humorous observations. There is, as always, the sound of resigned disgust and/or disquiet within his voice, even if some of those observations are aimed at himself. He knows all too well his own personal foibles.
Eton Alive is the fifth album that features Andrew Fearn, and the second album since Williamson gave up drugs and alcoholic. Since then, his writing has taken a closer look at mental health, consumption, emotional inarticulacy and masculinity, as well as his continuing look at privilege, and music industry shenanigans, of which he knows plenty about. Talking on the title, Williamson says, “It just comes from the idea that we are still being consumed by policies that were created partly by people who were educated at privileged schools. Psychologically, people are being ‘Eton Alive’ by dying on the streets, the homeless and other ways, but its affecting everybody now.” This sentiment is articulated best on ‘Policy Cream’ where, allied to a funked up bassline, Williamson zeroes in on Government policies that are, in effect, just band-aids for a deeper malaise.
Although they claim not to be: “hipster bashing fakes”, ‘Into the Payzone’ is about: “Higher wage bracket consumerism”, where: “Burberry stores and vegan plates” co-exist, but only to be afforded by those higher up the scale. While ‘Kebab Spider’s wobbly bass undercurrent fosters Williamson’s continued animosity towards the industry he is a part of, where mediocrity is encouraged, and which he rejects, initially to his cost: “You’ve had a record deal for nearly 30 years, what do you know about agencies, looking for jobs, shit wages.”
‘O.B.C.T’s dirty bass punk riff (and kazoo solo), neatly compliments the ‘concerns’ of celebrity culture, and ‘Top It Up’ refers to the allure of cocaine – even at a funeral – amongst some of his peers (and of course himself – he was a raging user at one point), amidst dark and moody bass and electronica, imploring: “Take me away from it”. While the propulsive digi beats of ‘Flipside’ is another music industry moan, which features the memorable line about Graham Coxon looking like a left wing Boris Johnson. Then there’s the almost disco-fied ‘Discourse’ (there’s a knowing play on words there) which continues a running theme of emotional inarticulacy: “We never touch the real feelings / Just the empty discourse.”
Eton Alive also features a deeper musical eclecticism, Andrew Fearn once again continuing to provide the foundations upon which Williamson gets to work. Broadly, it still falls into the darker recesses of electronic punk, but the palette is more diverse, staying simple on the surface, but proving to be devastatingly congruent with Williamson’s words.
Yet, despite all this new found, late-in-life success, they never seem to look or sound happy. However, their uber-grizzled, too-many-late-nights look belie a deep humanity, that shines through grey and gritted teeth, as does their obvious love of simply making music, and writing words, of which they are very prolific at. Williamson says ‘Negative Script’ is about, “The annoying demand to always be positive”, as he sings: “I don’t wanna flip the page, of my negative script / That cornered by young age, and ran away with it.” It’s the grease that keeps the pen moving, as it were. And for that, we should be bloody thankful.