As a member of Wevie Stonder, Henry Sargeant (or Mr Vast) is no stranger to cramming the askew into various musical forms. Grievous Bodily Charm is his first attempt at flying solo, and whilst it isn’t quite as bezerk as Wevie’s output, it is nonetheless quite a peculiar yet occasionally rewarding album.
Never one to stand still for a moment, Sargeant throws as many musical styles into the mix as humanly possible whilst also providing a confident comedic presence. There is a danger when mixing comedy and music that once the jokes become stale the sheen of the song quickly fades. Whilst it is true that some of these efforts suffer from fatigue after a few listens, when Sargeant gets it right the results can be quite extraordinary.
Opening the album is In Terms Of Ease and Speed which finds Mr Vast switching personalities on practically every line. He assumes the voices of, variously, an upper class toff, David Bowie and Danny The Dealer from Withnail & I, and throws in pinch of Ian Dury and a dollop of Phil Daniels for good measure. Musically it’s an off-kilter funk that’s not a million miles away from Madness’ Cardiac Arrest or Morphine in their prime, which of course means it’s immensely infectious. Buttercyde spins off in another direction and marries goth to dubstep whilst cursing bad luck, rhyming Twitter with shitter, and managing to make a chorus about buttering toast on both sides vaguely interesting.
At this point the album loses its momentum somewhat, with the tribal funk and relatively bland vocal of The Rug doing little that’s memorable. Bliss meanwhile starts out well with a curious glitch/classical intro before it segues into a musing on the pleasures of domestic bliss. Switching characters once again from a slightly pervy curtain twitcher to prescriptive house work dictator, it’s more performance poetry than anything else and repeated listens do it no favours at all.
Fortunately, this slight wobble is quickly followed by the quirky pop genius of Atlantis. A far better utilisation of his wild imagination, this tale of a saucy merman is undoubtedly the best moment on the album by simple virtue of not trying to hard to be smart or clever. It’s just a purely great song. The blissed out soul of Elemental is another fine example of Vast’s musical dexterity mixing well with his knowing lyrical prowess.
Teflon Country sees Vast try his hand at woozy ramshackle country whilst Henry The 8th switches tack again and utilises a grinding brainless metal riff to explore Henry’s trouble with women. Both are quite good fun but lack zeal and enough inventiveness to really startle. There’s a distinct influence of ’90s house at the mid-point of the album. You can practically smell the sweat of the dancefloor when the synths of Process Of Illumination kicks in. It’s so well crafted that the transcendental nature of the lyrics are easy to miss. That said, the Uranus joke still sticks out a mile. First Class sticks to the twin themes of religious fervour and the club, although there’s a lot more of the comedown about it than the revelatory.
Sargeant is clearly something of a dab hand at adopting musical styles and twisting them for his own needs. It would be interesting to see what he might do if he took his songs slightly more seriously as a whole, because a clumsy joke can occasionally derail the whole thing. The funkatronic incest club jam of Family Values, for example, just doesn’t quite go far enough to be truly offensive or brilliantly funny, although the 2Unlimited style break is pulled off beautifully. On his own, it feels as if Mr Vast can’t quite cover all the bases, so there’s nothing here as startling as Wevie’s Stitchin’, for example.