At risk of closing this review down before it’s even started, this is a record that really does what it says on the tin. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to imagine what an album by Slug – aka one time Field Music bassist Ian Black – called Higgledy Piggledy might sound like. But it takes one heck of an imagination to create something like this, and beneath the aching post punk and industrial chaos is a brilliant mind that etches away at the mundane, resulting in a record that is bafflingly complex yet playful and endlessly listenable.
This is the follow up to Slug’s 2015 debut, Ripe, a collaboration with Peter and David Brewis of Field Music. This time around he’s going it alone, stretching his legs, throwing even more at it and embracing a kind of Dada-inspired wonk-rock. It’s much more reflective than its older sibling. Both musically and lyrically it looks to the chaos of our time, from political upheaval to the everyday whirlwind of life that goes on around Black in his native Sunderland.
Opening track No Heavy Petting sets the tone. An aggressive, bruiser of a track, born out of Black’s bewilderment at modern music TV. Challenging himself to write a “sexy” song, he says: “I did a bit of research by turning on a music channel. I was drunk and I realised, with the synthesised marimba bleeps and drum machines and images of young men and women grinding all over each other, that I’d probably left it a little too late at the age of 35… there’s this little bit of dialogue spoken by computer within the song that is an exaggerated take on how I felt when with watching those videos of weak as piss songs with soft core pornography paraded on them.”
That sense of detachment is felt throughout; definitely lyrically – he wants to, he says “have fun writing truly horrible lyrics,” playing characters “venting in pubs, writing in the character of how some people think and behave” – but the music is central to Slug, and the menacing, creeping discomfort of his words is echoed equally in its sound.
Dolly Dimple is a highlight. It starts off Gang Of Four before descending into Yes via Devo, all with a persistent disco under-beat. It goes off in a million directions, tied tightly together by the creeping refrain: “We can make love together and wallow in the shallow pleasure.” Humming and Hawing is all Henry Mancini flutes, strings and a harpsichord sound, while Lackadaisical Love has an air of light funk. You Don’t Need To Wake Up is nightmarish with its distorted vocals and thick, sludginess is the soundtrack to the worst night’s sleep you’ve ever had.
Through these tracks you can almost picture him toiling away in a studio, recording layers of melodies, tweaking an orchestra of weird and wonderful instruments and angular guitars and dipping a toe into prog rock. Producing it must’ve been a huge job, the result is more than worth it. Higgledy Piggledy is brilliantly weird, packed full of ideas and sounds. It is a record you could spend a lifetime dissecting, yet still never get bored of.