Bristol’s longest-running band issue a document of a band doing their thing, and doing it very well indeed
For most people, Bristol is the home of trip-hop. Yet, before Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead redrew the musical landscape, there was another, very different, band by the River Avon.
In fact, The Blue Aeroplanes are now styled as Bristol’s longest-running band. Formed back in 1981, they released their debut album Bop Art three years later, and Culture Gun is their 13th album. The template has remained pretty standard over the years – jangly art-rock distinguished by Gerard Langley’s distinctive half-sung, half-spoken vocals.
While they’ve never really troubled the big time, support slots with the likes of R.E.M. and Siouxsie And The Banshees have always ensured a loyal army of fans – and, if you listen to albums such as Swagger and Beatsongs today, they still sound incredibly contemporary. They may have a list of former band members so long that there’s even a t-shirt in existence with the slogan “are you now, or have you ever been a member of The Blue Aeroplanes?” but thankfully the song remains the same down the decades.
Culture Gun bursts out of the tracks immediately – it’s billed as the band’s “most irate and politically engaged” album, and that’s a very good description of opening track Hips Like Cigarettes. Opening with a chugging, almost glam-rock guitar riff, its imbued with a furious energy as Langley addresses the state of the nation (“it’s fucking Dickensian, man”, in case you were wondering) before bemoaning the “spirit of 2016” and namechecking Cameron, Farage, Gove and Duncan-Smith while guitars howl in the background. And, as a portrait of our times, a line like “The next revolution will not be televised, it will be streamed, pay per view, and it won’t work properly” describes things pretty perfectly.
They’ve always had an eye for an attention-grabbing song title, and tracks like Building An Ark For The Anthropocene and Bulletproof Coffee & A Snake Oil Shot continue this tradition. The former is particularly good, dealing with, as you may expect, environmental concerns, with Langley and Bec Jevons spitting righteous fury about global destruction. As the music builds to a noisy climax, it’s almost like a call to arms in these troubled times.
Culture Gun has its more reflective, bittersweet moments too. Apostle Spoons is a grungy ballad with a wistful chorus of “life is always beautiful, oh yes we know, but it’s not always pretty, not pretty at all”, while the strutting Half A Crown shows the influence that The Blue Aeroplanes must have had on bands such as Yard Act, especially in Langley’s vocal delivery.
The R.E.M. comparisons are strongest on Someone (In The Arms Of No One), especially with an opening chiming guitar that could have come from Peter Buck himself, while (An Unlikely Hit Of) Adoration packs more energy and spirit into its three and a half minutes that many bands half their age could manage.
Culture Gun is unlikely to alter The Blue Aeroplanes ‘always the bridesmaid’ status but as a document of a long-standing band doing their thing, and doing it very well indeed, it doesn’t come much better.