It’s been six years but Stephen Jones and Babybird have finally got their act together and released a new album. After their previous album, Bugged, the band fell into a state of disrepair, which essentially meant that it looked increasing unlikely that Babybird as a band would ever return. Jones did express a sense of regret about the way the band ground to a halt the notes that accompanied the box-set for his original lo-fi recordings, and this was enough to keep the fans hoping that they would one day return.
So after some wait, and a few Jones releases sneaking their way out (he’s found time to write novels, release an impossible to find set entitled Plastic Tablets, and have a baby, which kind of counts as a release) we finally have the new album.
From a man who once assured us the he was almost cured of sadness, opening track Too Much, perhaps tells us a different truth. Unlike the cynical openings of previous albums that grabbed you by the ears and refused to let go (The F Word and Bad Old Man), Between My Ears opens with wonderfully heartfelt ballad. Regret may have tainted the end of the band, but here it reintroduces them in positively sparkling terms. A gentle piano and an orchestra lead you through a song tinged with sadness, as Jones croons “Now I wanna go back to that little kid I was, who had nothing else but love”. Too Much pushes the emotional range of his voice to the limit, and you’re instantly reminded how affecting Babybird could be.
Between My Ears is an album that positively bulges with skewed love songs. Snails is a triumphantly catchy beast driven by a throbbing bass line. As with all Babybird’s poppier efforts there’s usually darkness lurking beneath the surface. It’s no surprise then that Snails deals in the language of love (falling apart). It’s awash with regret at the loss of a lover, yet there’s a typical arrogance in the lyrics. “When you come back you’ll try to find what we had” he says “but I’ll fail”. Jones’ delicious barbed sense of humour nestles at the heart of the word ‘when’. Having spent the song pleading for love not to leave, it’s a turnaround that could never have been entirely unexpected.
70 is a sincere and tender paean to love as experienced by OAPs. In lesser hands lines like “She’s the happy ever after that goes on forever” could seem trite, but Babybird fill their songs with genuine pathos. Better Than Love follows a similar tack, embracing the joy of love and relationships. This being Babybird however, it’s a song that still manages to resonate with a definite sense of sorrow.
The lyrics for all of these songs are immaculately written, not least the brilliantly observed and truly tragic Divorce Song, which would be enough to put anyone off of marriage. It’s also a song that proves without a doubt that Babybird are a band and not just Jones and his supporting cast; as an instrumental, it could easily break your heart. It would appear that Stephen Jones may have been lying about how close he was to being cured of sadness. He wasn’t lying with the title of this album, though – there really is plenty of music between his ears. After all Jones is a man who once released eight albums in the space of five years, and this is all the evidence you should need that he didn’t bleed the well dry.