In Babybird’s early days, Stephen Jones seemed quite happy firing out a wealth of work on his lo-fi albums. Then came You’re Gorgeous, a song that must still feel like something of an albatross around his neck, such is the strength of its association with the Babybird name.
Away from You’re Gorgeous and the sudden, all too brief, brush with fame, Jones has been busy releasing collections of soundtrack recordings, writing novels, penning albums under his own name and under the moniker of Death Of The Neighbourhood whilst contining to write music under the name of Babybird.
The Pleasures Of Self Destruction finds him growing up, branching out and embracing love in all its forms. It is also an album that finds Jones apparently stepping away from his unique barbed cynicism, which might well disappoint long term fans. His sharp wit is still present, but Jones seems to have found a more positive outlook, even on the songs about relationships dissolving. Similarly, the dark seedy side of life as previously explored on the likes of Bad Old Man is largely absent here, replaced for the most part by a phenomenally sentimental set of songs. This will come as no surprise to anyone who picked up Babybird’s previous album Ex-Maniac, as Jones was already beginning to head towards songs with huge hooks and emotional punch, and with The Pleasures Of Self Destruction he’s perfected the art.
For evidence of growing up and moving on, look no further than the beautiful I Love Her, a piano ballad that explores the unconditional love of a parent, and how responsibility requires them to change their lives for their children. In less careful hands such a subject could be horrifically mawkish, but Jones just about manages to keep the sentiment in check.
Remember Us is another piano led love song that tugs heavily at the heartstrings and showcases Jones’ ability to inject genuine emotion into his vocals. It could so easily have been oversentimental and overblown, and yet, as so often is the case with Babybird songs the simplicity and directness of Jones’ lyrics and songwriting is so finely honed that it hits target perfectly.
A Little More Each Day tells the story of a successful relationship where love grows rather than receding. Awash with soaring strings and delicate flutes, it’s a stunningly tender song which for some reason calls to mind the first 10 minutes of the movie Up. It’s a similar story on The Best Day Of Our Lives. Admittedly there’s more drinking and youthful mistakes involved, but where a younger Jones might have destroyed the characters at the heart of this story, he allows them to embrace the highs and lows of life and gives them a positive spin. This is balanced out somewhat by Can’t Love You Anymore, a song whose characters are at a pivotal point in their relationship where the positives are hard to find. It’s an epic torch song that represents the most bombastic moment on the album thanks to Jones’ utterly raw performance when he hits the chorus.
Those wondering where the acerbic Jones has gone will find some solace in the likes of the lo-fi buzz of I’m Not A Killer, whilst WWW.Song takes a somewhat unnerving wander through the world of the online stalker, who “prefers underage cos it covers his rage”. This being Babybird it’s natural that such subject matter is carefully wrapped up in a wonderful pop melody. Yet, despite these occasional forays into old territory, this is a positive album with love in its heart. It may be too sentimental for some, but there’s little doubting that The Pleasures Of Self Destruction is an another example of Stephen Jones’ excellence as a songwriter.