BACKSEAT MAFIA ALBUM REVIEW: ARREST! CHARLIE TIPPER – ‘RED’
Hopefully ‘Red’ the new album under the Arrest! Charlie Tipper moniker will help to make the band more well known as they certainly deserve it after this splendid effort.
STARTING out in 2013 as The Charlie Tipper Experiment, then The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy and more recently adopting the Arrest! Charlie Tipper moniker, these Bristol-based indie stalwarts have certainly kept us guessing about their name whilst releasing a steady stream of quality albums and singles.
I once contacted the band to ask who Charlie Tipper actually was and was amused by their response: “We could tell you-but then we’d have to kill you!”
Featuring former members of The Five Year Plan, The Groove Farm, Beatnik Filmstars, The Rosehips and The Flatmates was always going to make for an intriguing promise of quality. Old hands in the indie world often stick with the style they’re best known for but in The Tippers’ case they’ve successfully created a sound which is theirs alone.
The vocals have a yearning quality; guitars are either gently strummed or attacked with vigour. There are keyboard pulses and big swooshing sounds which lead you to suspect at least one band member has a few dusty old Hawkwind albums in their collection. Many songs have a cornet playing; mournful embellishments which often remind me of Morricone western scores … in short, what Arrest! Charlie Tipper excel at is atmosphere. On songs like “The 93%”, the cornet will sometimes leap to the fore and play a more upbeat motif (in a June Brides, early Jasmine Minks or Brilliant Corners trumpet style).
Another important piece of the Tipper jigsaw is the political edge to many of the lyrics, a more than welcome element in these troubled times; there are also songs laced with doomed romance and a kind of resignation that things don’t always work out for the best, such as “You say I’m soft these days – I’m not as weak as you say” from “Shelf”, a song infused with bursts of amusement arcade keyboard sounds and insistent Buzzcocks guitar.
The words to “Don’t Leave Me Alone” also have that kitchen sink drama feel, which will be familiar to those captivated by the lyrics of David Gedge in his prime.
My favourite song here is “Hurt”: a slow burner which starts as a dead ringer for something off Luna’s Bewitched LP, before a deep Melody Nelson-sounding bass comes in to carry the song through to its heavier crescendo.
Red is Arrest! Charlie Tipper’s fourth album and easily their best so far, but the band have already revealed they’ve been busy during lockdown recording an ambitious double album that they claim is even better. It’ll be hard to top this one for sure but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Hopefully Red will help to make the band more well known as they certainly deserve it after this splendid effort.
LOUDER THAN WAR - Arrest! Charlie Tipper: Red
By Ged Babey September 5, 2020
Agit-Pop, Art-Rock and Melancholy Indie are the stock in trade of Bristol C86 veterans Charlie Tipper. Spizz-like band-name changes hide the fact that this a band with heart and soul, says Ged Babey.
It’s great when you write about a band a couple times, then see them play, meet them and they are really nice people. Modest but talented, sincere in their activism, just cool but ordinary people (as opposed to being egotistical rock’n’roll caricatures that is.).
The Charlie Tipper beat combo are a band who sing about Freedom of Speech and celebrate Key Workers because once you are past the first flush of youth, the music you make has to have some meaning in days like these, doesn’t it?
(Follow all those links and then come back here. And I’ll continue….)
‘Red’ includes two songs which are absolute life-affirming works of pop genius, two of my favourite songs this year, …and nine other songs, five that are really good and the other four are a bit… not-so-great.
Despite this I still wholeheartedly recommend the album. (And not just because I like the band). Because flawed is beautiful. Human beings are all imperfect: idealistic, ambitious, naive, erratic… and we could all do with a bit more time and money being spent on us. And Red is an all-too-human album.
But I’m gonna emphasise the positive and shut out any unpleasantness. Activate The Bubble!
Opening song Bubble is wonderful. (Written before quarantine, it is about the social media kind of bubble rather than the Covid-avoidance tactic. )
It’s such a relevant/pertinent/astute lyric about exactly how a lot of us feel. It’s about addiction to, dependence on and the comfort of, your self-created social media bubble: once you’ve unfriended all the old school mates who fall for the Mail propaganda and the Moz apologists.
The music is as great as the lyrics: Velvets chug, an insistent drum-machine pattern (which reminds me of the Antz ‘Lady’) and a plaintive guitar motif emphasising the sadness of knowing what a fool you’re being really.
There’s a dig at ‘ageing pop-stars talking rubbish’ and references to existential dread and governmental tyranny in a typically understated English way.
The phrase singer Tim uses: Activate the bubble… makes me smile as I think of him as a Thunderbirds or SHADO commander ordering protective screens to be initiated…
The other absolute classic song on the album is this: Annik. A melancholy tale of star-crossed lovers…
An imagined viewpoint of the feelings of Ian Curtis Belgian girlfriend. It’s a sad, sweet love-song, complete with ‘baby’s’. Meant as a tribute to the way she kept her dignity and never ‘sold her story’. Like a TV dramatisation ‘based on actual events’ it works really well as a song with a sympathetic, perhaps romanticised, take on a real-life tragedy. Sentimental, but not at all sordid(e).
It will get stuck in your head and you’ll find yourself humming it. The kind of song you definitely have to listen to twice-in-a-row.
There’s another xylophone and cornet embellished love-lost song called ‘Hurt’ which is just so sad it will reduce sensitive souls to tears. The bass-playing is spine-tingling.
‘Poets’ has a great repeated lyric ‘How long can you stare into the sun..’ which seems to sum up something about modern life and fighting the good fight…
‘All For Sale’ has a great couplet rhyming Enjoy it while it lasted / he’s a stupid bastard.
The complete lyric to track three is: Freedom of Speech doesn’t mean freedom to spread hatred. Freedom of Speech doesn’t mean freedom to spread fear. We won’t let you win.
Arrest! Charlie Tipper have roots in twee indie pop, but have the intensity of a garage Joy Division and delicate fragility of an English Galaxie 500. Add to that the ‘Kick Over The Statues’ politics of the Redskins and it makes for the Tipper experience being as well-rounded and unique a proposition as you can get in post-C86 circles.
I’ve highlighted the songs, but the playing is great too. The production is adequate, but only a higher budget would improve that.
‘Red’ isn’t quite the masterpiece the band may have hoped for but it does contain some absolute gems and has a resolute individuality that you won’t find elsewhere.
‘Red’ is the sound of the beaten-down optimist and romantic and the soundtrack to the struggle for a better world and personal contentment, against all the odds.
Album cover art is a painting by Liverpool artist and ex-Half Man Half Biscuit member (1991-96) Ian Jay (Jackson)