I think it was Saul Bellow who said that death is the dark backing a mirror needs if we are to see anything. Without consciousness of death, reflection would be impossible and we’d be stuck looking out onto a contextless present with the shallow gape of the fish.
Most pop music is piscine, teenage, and without self-consciousness, only rarely does it obtain gravitas without descending into triteness (Sting/Weller) or melancholy (Cohen). Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Flipron, whose debut album Fancy Blues and Rustique Novelties is that rarest of things, an inspired pop album with haunting yet witty lyrics.
On the opener, ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on the Dead’, Jesse Budd relates his horror at the idea of knowing when he’ll die: ‘A man’s death is his own I surmise, so if your premonitions yield the time and place of my demise: tell me fibs, tell me porkies, tell me lies.’ This idea that life is a system of elaborate lies for deferring death recurs throughout the album. Indeed, the creation of a bizarre afterlife on ‘(Dead Lovers. Reborn in the City, Reunite in Passionate) Impact’ is a classic case. A puppy and a monster represent reincarnated lovers, the former falling from the fifty-first floor into the mouth of the latter where they are reunited. At least, I think that’s what’s happening.
Sonically they are a sprightly blend of organ-driven easy listening, Robert Wyatt-ish whimsy, and the piano balladry of Keane. I’m half-joking about the last one, but just to remind myself how far Flipron are beyond such authenticity-seeking drivel.
The album is not without its flaws – Budd’s weary voice can take a while to get used to and the variety of moods and tempos is somewhat bewildering. Older fans may blanche at the absence of Flipron’s favourites like ‘Youth Shall Never Beat Old Age in a Race’ and ‘Lions’. However, these are relatively minor complaints.
The lyrical highlight is the sinister two-part fable of ‘The Vicious Car & Love Poem’ wherein a depraved car (which mows down old people) leaves the singer ‘a broken-down burned out boy.’ Shortly after, he meets his love. The second part describes how their subsequent fifty-year happiness is disrupted by a dream of the car coming back:
I dreamed that the unstoppable could finally be stopped.
So I’m standing here, waiting, trembling & propped
up by the courage I’ve only ever found because of you.
It is impossible to do justice to lyrics of such poetic unity. Most pop music relies on slogans and brief flashes of insight; perhaps it is only death’s dark backing that allows for such coherence. Whatever, Fancy Blues and Rustique Novelties is a marvellous album.