Album Reviews

Simon Bookish – Everything, Everything

(Tomlab) UK release date: 6 October 2008

Simon Bookish - Everything, Everything Even with a couple of albums under his belt, Simon Bookish‘s recordings have always played second fiddle to his performances. Live, he’s an extraordinary one-man electronic cabaret act; prowling the stage in Nico biker boots and horn-rimmed specs, and berating the audience over minimalist beeps and drones with outlandish proclamations in a plummy monotone.

But in the absence of a live audience to play against, his first two albums strayed too readily into over-conceptualised doom; and with the exception of a few stand-out tracks, conveyed the impression that they had been written by computer algorithm rather than by flesh and blood.

On Everything, Everything, Bookish emerges as a fully-fledged recording artist, still challenging and provoking his audience, but communicating for the first time with real emotional resonance. Gone is the bedsit-bound ProTools backing in favour of live instrumentation (saxophones, brass, piano, organ); elaborately scored and sliding seamlessly between classical, jazz and experimental styles.

Bookish’s lyrical development is just as impressive: mock-heroic daftness is replaced by inventive, thoughtful words; no less surreal but infinitely more considered. This isn’t a concept album as such; but if there’s a central theme here, it’s how we process and utilise the glut of information with which the modern world assaults us. But this is no adolescent knee-jerking; like Laurie Anderson‘s Big Science, Everything, Everything is warm, celebratory and optimistic about information and technology.

The Flood, a strangely effective amalgam of avant-garde free jazz and secondary school productions of Joseph, sets out the manifesto for the album: the “deluge of all known facts and figures” presents us with “humankind’s last chance to join hands… or drown.” From hereon, Bookish draws his lexicon from geology, astronomy, chemistry, engineering and oceanography; marrying startling Joycean flows of language with ever-more inventive musical backings.

Dumb Terminal begins as a torch song, with Bookish fashioning his hoity-toity David Bowie vocals into a brassy croon; but ends in disorientating atonal squawking, perhaps the only real nod to his impenetrable earlier work here. Elsewhere – and again, Laurie Anderson is a clear point of reference – weird noises and incongruous genres are brought together in an audacious but broadly accessible way.

Throughout, Everything, Everything is wholly listenable but wholly odd. A New Sense Of Humour starts as a sleazy, noirish, big band number; then morphs into a creepy For Your Pleasure-era Roxy Music homage, complete with Brian Eno-esque stabs of alien sound. Alsatian Dog lulls the listener into a false sense of security with a cuddly funk and brass backing, then promptly bombards you with surreal, unsettling imagery: “What does he eat? What does he eat? / Dog food or oyster sauce / Millefeuille off the kitchen floor / Plastic or kerosene / Toast, jam, margarine.”

Yet, at its simplest and most sedate, Bookish’s new work is utterly beautiful. Piano ballad A Crack In Larsen C owes much to the West End stage: imagine the tearjerkers of Les Miserables drained entirely of their sentimentality. Carbon plays on the same heartstrings, using Brecht and Weill as its starting point to a far more flamboyant effect.

This is an album of immense variety and ambition, backed up by the talent and creativity to pull off the whole enterprise with aplomb. After a long hit-and-miss apprenticeship on the fringes of the London music scene, Simon Bookish looks set to follow his old friend Patrick Wolf into the ranks of those few experimental artists who truly deserve to make it big.

buy Simon Bookish MP3s or CDs
Spotify Simon Bookish on Spotify

More on Simon Bookish
Simon Bookish – Everything, Everything
Simon Bookish: “I remember a gig years ago where I ended up throwing a chair at the audience” – Interview