The Monochrome Set – Cosmonaut

The Monochrome Set - Cosmonaut

The Monochrome Set – Cosmonaut

After very nearly four decades of existence, you could be forgiven for wondering exactly what it is that The Monochrome Set have got to say to us today. In the years since their first appearance in 1978, the North London band – based mostly around guitarists and songwriters Lester Square and Bid – has remained steadfastly out of the musical mainstream, despite an early appearance in their ranks by Adam Ant, who would go on to the actual pop stardom that The Monochrome Set have always seemed sardonic commentators upon. Art-punk originals that could, were they a touch more egotistical, describe themselves as progenitors of the entire indie-guitar scene, they have instead chosen to continue operating somewhere in the background of the music world.

Cosmonaut  is the third new Monochrome Set album since 2012, following on from last year’s Spaces Everywhere, and while it retains the band’s trademark combination of jangling guitars and wryly-worded lyricism, it’s a lighter, less claustrophobic collection than its predecessor, being the sound of several indie veterans enjoying themselves tremendously.

The whistling oscillations of a theremin introduce the album’s first and title-track and obviously, The Monochrome Set have lost none of their enthusiasm or abilities since Spaces Everywhere, despite the recent departure of founding member Lester Square. There again, as a band whose combination of lo-fi surf punk aesthetics and amateur dramatics has always been highly influential, you cannot seriously expect The Monochrome Set to suddenly metamorphose into playing electronica, or acoustic folk or metal or anything other than their trademark wigged-out guitar pop, delivered with raised eyebrows and a flourish of musical excess. Their sound is a far from basic one, with instrumental passages that can take unexpectedly improvisational turns, although you may need to listen very closely to really appreciate what they’re doing.

The effusiveness of some of the music is matched by the wilful surrealism of some of the lyrics. The Monochrome Set can’t just go to a restaurant without getting deeply involved with what is on their plates, as in “Suddenly, Last Autumn”, a song that could make you think twice about ever ordering fettucini again. Then there’s the just plain daftness of “Squirrel In A Hat”, in which singer/songwriter Bid expresses his oneness with nature, and his envy of the less complicated lives of our woodland friends, although the question of where a squirrel can actually purchase a hat isn’t discussed openly. And the frenetic rockabilly of “Stick Your Hand Up If You’re Louche” is some way removed from the actual song itself, although by around this point I’d more or less given up attempting to decipher the increasingly nonsensical lyric and just get what I could from the keyboard-fuelled, furiously played and verging-on-incendiary music. Long time fans of The Monochrome Set are definitely in for a treat with Cosmonaut.

Whether anyone else actually gets the joke very probably isn’t going to keep Bid, Andy, Foz or Lester or any other members of The Monochrome Set awake at night. After very nearly forty years of bewildering audiences with their musical invention and seemingly endless supply of rhyming couplets, that The Monochrome Set can produce an album as raw, visceral and relentlessly entertaining as Cosmonaut is an impressive feat by any ’70s punk veteran standards. Two parts rock ‘n’ roll excess to one part nonsensical poetics, The Monochrome Set are at least as relevant today as they have ever been.

Tapete Records

Comments

  1. CARYNE PEARCE says:

    Cosmonaut is actually the FOURTH new album by The Monochrome Set since 2012. Which one did the reviewer miss? There’s been Platinum Coils, Super Plastic City and Spaces Everywhere.