Penguins Go Pop: 20th Century Pop

review penguins x1 cong

This is an album we wished we’d heard 30 years ago — it’s one of those albums you love in your youth, and ever more it remains a musical comfort blanket.

It’s not quite garage rock and it’s too layered to be called DIY, but there’s an endearing homemade quality to it. This is not a criticism; we’ve played in bands for years and knows how hard (and expensive) it is to make professional recordings, particularly without the expense of overdubbing (or in this case, having access to the original drummer).

The album was recorded in bits over 18 months, but this is only obvious in the slightly ragged opening moments, and the band can play tightly — by track three, an Inspiral Carpets-ish number, the band is banging out tight, complex music that could almost be space rock, a feat they repeat in other songs, such the dub-influenced All The Little Houses.

Googling the band, we find they are — as Alan Partridge might say — big in Norwich. Led by local legend Richard Penguin, the band was formed in the late 80s by singer and songwriter Mr Penguin. Penguins Go Pop reformed in October 2013 and gigged, played festivals and won over new fans with their catchy songs and quirky stories.

Opener Let’s Break The Barriers Down is a more standard rock tune. The band members show off their chops, with changes in song structure, a couple of solos, lots of fillers from the drummer and nice organ work.

Mountain Climbing is next, opening with snare and kick drum before some Levellers-ish violin, followed by a beat that sounds a bit Clash. All The Little Houses goes from a loping beat and classical harpsichord to something more akin to Here and Now (aka Planet Gong).

The tunes are all catchy while the lyrics involve odd tales and unexpected characters: Mountain Climbing refers to sorting out problems over cups of tea (“TEA!”) before climbing the Andes and meeting Blue Peter’s John Noakes and commenting on his grand pair of walking boots.

She’s Violent has an Inspiral Carpets/Madchester vibe and keyboard, and features a character who crossed Frank Sinatra and is now on a mafia list, via a sterling guitar lick or two. Other topics include a shipwreck (nobody dies), Neil Armstrong, Wales, trains and Steve Biko.

The bands they remind us of include Wedding Present, early XTC at their more melodic and Jonathan Richman for the low-fi appeal, but they will appeal to any fans of quirky pop and shouting for tea. They’ve had a song played on Moorlands Radio in Leek, too.

Out on King Penguin 0002.

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