By Tanner Meadows
Artist: Insecure Men
Album: Insecure Men
Release Date: Feb 23, 2018
Label: Fat Possum Records
Former schoolmates and current musicians Saul Adamczewski, of the band Fat White Family and Ben Romans-Hopcraft, of Childhood, two groups pivotal to south London’s growing underground rock scene, make up the backbone of the power pop supergroup Insecure Men, who recently released a debut album of the same name.
This isn’t an album that’s going to immediately reach out and grab you, but after a couple of spins, after what you’re listening to really sets in, it’s a record that demands to be listened to. It’s faux-exotica and lounge influences, as well as its heavy reliance on synthesizers, give it this surface level feeling of corniness, most apparent on the track “Heathrow.” There are times Insecure Men is reminiscent of the kind of music that might attempt to bring an islandy vibe to an elevator, but that’s exactly what gives it its avant-garde quality. The pervasively catchy and reverb heavy single, “Teenage Toy,” with its 80s pop inspiration and what appears to be backing vocals done by Alvin and the Chipmunks, is an exposition of adolescent sexuality and the frustration inherent with coming of age in the suburbs of suburbia. The idea is expanded on in the song’s music video, an homage to classic British cinema that lends a layer of hallucinogenic monochromatism to the track that really accentuates the static nature of suburban life.
The influence the duo’s prior projects have on the record is very apparent. The Black Lips-esque, controversial Fat White Family, famous for their artistic obsession with the muck and grime of humanity, reflected in their macabre lyrics as well as their personal lives, combines with the more indie, smoothed out and dreamily bassy sound of Childhood. The combo tones down the edginess of Fat White Family, yet maintains the dark undertones, disguised in synthy bliss, and weird lyrics unabashed by the sensitivities of posh society. It’s easy to make the parallel between the complementary musical styles and the bandmate’s relationship. Adamczewski, who’s abuse of crack and heroin almost cost him his place in Fat White Family, has expressed in the past how he values how Romans-Hopcraft’s cool level-headedness has always kept him out of trouble, balancing out his more wild tendencies. Insecure Men is something of an attempt at sobriety; Adamczewski, since returning from rehab and a semi-spiritual stint in Mexico, has managed to stay clean so far by putting the majority of his energy towards this project.
Insecure Men is not ignorant of its outlandish precursor and is anything but short of bizarre content. In short, it’s happy music about dark stuff. The album as a whole keeps steady a feeling of surreality. It’s layered the same way all psychedelic music is with a variety of instruments beyond bass and guitar. Synth, vibraphone, saxophone, steel drums and all sorts of bells and whistles, figuratively and literally, sonically build the hypnagogic atmosphere while the words themselves make you question whether you heard that right or not. For instance, when Adamczewski croons, “Cliff Richard sure looks pretty when he runs his fingers through my hair,” on “Cliff Has Left the Building,” a song about Operation Yewtree and the police investigation of the myriad of sexual abuse and pedophillia accusations against high level British media personalities, you have to ask yourself, “Hey, why does this elevator music make me feel so uncomfortable?” “Mekong Glitter,” a chugging and thumping break in the otherwise dreamlike album, speaks on the similarly disgraced Gary Glitter and his exile to southeast Asia. “Whitney and I” is a ballad about the similarities between the deaths of Bobbi and Whitney Houston sung from the perspective of a daughter who lived and died in the shadow of her mother. It’s the naivety of the instrumentation blending with the dreariness of the words that make this album so dark yet so good. Of course, not all the tracks are so inconspicuously sinister. “I Don’t Wanna Dance (with My Baby),” the second single off the album, is ironically named because it’s pacing and catchiness make it exactly the kind of song that would make you wanna dance with your baby “in front of the whole street.” The album finishes with “Burried in the Bleak,” an introspective reflection on Adamczewski’s self destructive past.
Juxtaposing kiddish musicality with aberrant lyrics makes this album, like so many other great pieces of art, very weird. If the portrayal of a coyishly twisted, psychedelic-dipped cartoon world is what you want to be listening to, then Insecure Men is the album for you.