You have to give The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing credit for making it to a fourth album without major deviation from the Victorian themed punk genre of which they are probably the sole representatives. They’ve certainly confined themselves to a small niche – any audience they have needs to be into the punk sound, but also tolerant of the inherent Victoriana.
But The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing negotiate their niche precisely by sticking to a squarely punk sound: they might be Victorian themed, but any overtures towards music hall or cockney singalong around the old joanna are kept to a minimum.
To quote the title of their last album, they are Not Your Typical Victorians – but then the stereotype of the typical Victorian, fainting at the sight of an uncovered piano leg, is far from the whole story of that era. And if The Men… can be said to have any historical relevance or accuracy (and they arguably do), then that’s on account of the way they present a warts and all picture of the Victorians.
Double Negative is their most straightforwardly punk album to date. There are strands to their back catalogue that are outright musical comedy, and while there are moments of ribaldry and gallows humour here there are no songs that rely on their comedy value. The music has fewer hints of jollity too: Andrew O’Neill’s guitar has always had heaviness to it, but the whole package now feels more intense. It’s a hard, fast, short record: nine tracks over just 28 minutes.
Choice cuts from The Men…’s back catalogue include songs about a zombie Prince Albert and the tale of a lovely trip to the seaside being spoiled by a rampaging Cthulhu. In contrast, Double Negative’s tracks are less like scenes from an Alan Moore comic and more rooted in historical fact. Admittedly the grotesque subject matter of Obscene Fucking Machine, bring focus to the sex life of the future King Edward VII, wouldn’t be out of place in an Alan Moore comic, but it also happens to be historically accurate.
We have a track about body-snatchers Burke and Hare, the flippant but gruesome Supply & Demand, and one about child labour, God Is In The Bottom Line. The latter, narrated from the perspective of a callous mill owner, is pretty grim: for a moment it seems as though he’s feeling some sort of guilt, but then he declares that “Fingerless children are collateral damage”.
There are a couple of left turns. Occam’s Razor is atypical of The Men not in its subject matter, the quintessentially Victorian story of Jack the Ripper, but in its perspective. Their songs are almost always narrated from within the Victorian era, but this one looks back from the present day to rubbish the various myths concerning the ripper’s identity and suggest that we simply accept it’s a puzzle that won’t ever be solved.
Closing track There’s Going To Be A Revolution focuses not on a particular incident or aspect of the Victorian age, but takes a more general view of its social ills. In a strange way, this aggrieved anthem, driven by grinding, chugging guitar, is a protest song, albeit protesting the inequities of a bygone time.
And yet, in its call for the impoverished and the infirm to rise up against the rich and powerful, it speaks to the present day as much as the 19th century. As Double Negative comes to a close, this song asks us to look back over the album and recognise that we haven’t necessarily come as far as we think in the last century and a half. Thus a Victorian themed punk band prove their continuing relevance.