It’s impossible for your heart not to sink on looking at the cover of A Terrible Beauty. Three portly, middle-aged men, clad in unfortunate leather and zebra-skin outfits, and displaying some truly dreadful facial hair and mullets, stare out at the listener. Then, there’s that bizarre band name. A quick look at the tracklisting, with titles such as Sidelong Glances At A Pigeon Kicker and Gilbert O Sullivan may suggest that this record is that misnomer of misnomers – the comedy rock album.
There’s a big difference here though – The Uncle Devil Show’s album is very funny. Laugh out loud funny in places in fact. Yet even better, the songs here stand up on repeated listening, long after the chuckling at the wry and sardonic lyrics has stopped.
On further examination, The Uncle Devil Show is actually the work of Justin Currie from Del Amitri, Jim McDermott from Simple Minds and cult Scottish singer Kevin McDermott. Unlike other celebrity side-projects (Jarvis Cocker‘s Relaxed Muscle comes to mind for example), this isn’t just a bunch of rich mates having a laugh in the studio. Songs such as I Had A Drink About You or She Cuts Her Own Fringe are at least the equal of anything the band members have been involved with before.
Given the rather earnest reputation of both Del Amitri and Simple Minds, it comes as quite a shock to hear the bizarre lyrics of Gilbert O’Sullivan (“Gilbert O’Sullivan is everything you could need, if you’ve got kids to babysit or dogs to feed”). Opening track Leonardo’s Bicycle is also light and breezy with some more absurd lyrics about stealing a friend’s bike, with Kevin McDermott’s voice sounding rather like Michael Stipe to these ears.
There’s also an appealing depth to some of the songs here. Bimbo In A Limo may raise a smile at first hearing (“I’m terminally w**kered with a poodle on my knee” for example) but its swipe at shallow celebrity culture is heartfelt and welcome. Not every song is played for laughs either – which is good, as this may have become wearying. A cover of ’70s singer Helen Reddy‘s Angie Baby is pretty straight-ahead guitar pop, while the aforementioned I Had A Drink About You is rather moving.
The Uncle Devil Show always manage to stay listenable (only on Strange Umbrella does the humour seem forced) and even manages the best Beatles steal on Sidelong Glances Of A Pigeon Kicker since Oasis last shaked their maker. Don’t judge this book by its cover and put away all thoughts of unlistenable comedy rock – this is one uncle that’s far from embarrassing.