Bob - Leave The Straight Life Behind: Expanded Edition

by Steve Reynolds Rating:9 Release Date:2014-04-21

Back in the early 90s there was the onslaught of the Madchester Scene; a scene awash with flares, kicker boots. and silly hats. During this period it was very hard to find stuff that wasn’t lurking in the shadows of baggy or simply trying to rip one another off.  

Behind all this, though, were burgeoning record labels which operated on a shoe-string but still managed to come up with the more discerning artists of the time (Imaginary – CUD; Big Cat – Carter USM; Dedicated – The Family Cat), and then there were those like BOB which embraced the DIY ethic by setting up their own label (House of Teeth) which became a much easier route to market rather than swimming in your own narcissism and waiting for the big boys to come a knocking.

BOB possessed the cuddliness and charm of The Flatmates but juggled it with all the kitchen-sink drama of The Razorcuts. Formed in 1986 and meeting up with the only DJ of any note at the time (Mr John Peel), they focussed their energies on touring all of the UK’s one-man-and-his-dog venues to build up a following and enough readies to put out their own recordings. 

The definitive BOB line-up is Richard Blackborow (vocals, guitars and keys), Simon Armstrong (Vocals, guitars), Dean Leggett (drums , percussion) and Stephen Hersom (Bass). This spring sees the expanded release of their second album, Leave the Straight Life Behind, which was originally released in 1991.

Prior to LTSLB, they had released their debut, Swag Sack, but had the most success with the single ‘Convenience’, which ended up making John Peel’s festive 50 of 1989, and in the view of many is the definitive indie-pop single (OK, it’s my view). Buoyed by their new found fame and hitting a creative streak, they released two brilliant EPs, Stride Up, which contained a sublime cover of The Beatles' ‘Rain’, and the similarly excellent Tired. This culminated in the band being instantly recognised in their local Happy Shopper and, with new found fame and a spring in their step, they set about making their sophomore album.

Straight Life marks a turning point in the career of BOB. Not wanting to drasticly change their sound, they merely grew some bigger boots and sharpened their nuances ever so slightly. The quick-witted licks and hooks are still there but there’s a sense of broadening their shoulders and flexing their musical muscle.

Armstrong and Blackborow swap vocal duties throughout. Armstrong’s direct vocal fits perfectly with the heavier sounding songs, while Blackborow’s subtler tones fit seamlessly with the dreamier ones.

Album opener ‘Dynamite’ is a very sombre, melancholy affair. Blackborow is in unforgiving mood: “As I throw my life in your face/ I hope that you choke on the taste”, coldly delivered with just an acoustic guitar. Armstrong puts a different spin on things when he takes the mic on ‘Skylark III’ and turns up the guitar while the danceable strains of indie-pop echo his elasticated wordsmithery. The lyrics are instantly thought provoking: “We’re commas on pages in books that may never be read/ There’s libraries waiting to open up inside my head”. 

Blackborow’s distinct vocal takes centre stage on ‘Nothing for Something’ and ‘Who You Are’. His mellifluous tongue envelopes the tight rhythm section and the former has a lightning riff throughout. The songwriting on LTSLB seems so effortless and you can sense the band recorded the album in fine fettle. ‘Old Jean Blues’ embodies all that is good about BOB: simple arrangements, no flabby or elongated wigouts, just hearty, simplistic songs of joy. 

Side one ends with ‘Take Take Take’. Blackborow opens tersely with, “I think I recognise the symptoms we have here – too much masturbation, too much hope and too much beer”. He is pretty belligerent and takes no prisoners on this hard-hitting break up song: “And it shows just how fucked up the whole thing is/ I want to take you as a friend – I want to stop and start again”.

Side two opener ‘Skylark 2’ is all about unrequited love: “Will you be with him/ Will you be with me in the sunshine?” The music sways from the tempered to the cut-loose, but captures BOB at what they do best.

‘Saying Goodbye’ is a bloody belter from start to finish. Full of lovely hooks and Blackborow’s heartfelt and easy going vocal, it delivers glowingly but the lyrics couldn’t be anymore upsetting. They discuss the beginning of the end of the nuclear family. While there is warmth in the song’s arrangement, it shields some dark and sorrowful lyrics: “Jackie got somewhere/ Georgie got nothing but trouble at home… Mother and father take what they want and then throw it away”.

The last three songs continue to cement the strength of the album, but I will leave you to investigate their own beguiling qualities without being too onerous. This re-issue comes with a plethora of sessions, including three they did for John Peel, which showcase the strength of the band’s back-catalogue and their clever knack of laying down golden treasures of indie-pop, long before you could even mention Belle & Sebastian.

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