How many bands have tried to mix up styles and genres and fallen on their face? Don’t spend too long trying to come up with an answer. It’ll take you a while, and you’ll doubtless need more fingers and toes than you are in possession of to keep count. One thing is for sure, The Penny Black Remedy are not a band that you’d be adding to the list of failures.
There’s been a fair few bands mixing up punk and gypsy influences recently. Most notably Gogol Bordello have found themselves heralded as one of the most exciting bands around both on record and on the live circuit. Like Gogol, The Penny Black Remedy’s songs have a distinct Eastern European flavour to them which is somewhat unsurprising seeing as vocalist/percussionist Marijana Hajdarhodizc is Croatian. At the centre of the band however is Scot songwriter Keith M Thomson who claims all the songwriting credits on the album. Despite this, it would appear that the cultural influence of his band mates has bled through into his writing as the gypsy sound is stamped all over the place.
This is an album that could have gone drastically wrong. To blend ska, punk, metal, rock and roll handclaps and country over the course of an album is a bold thing to attempt; The Penny Black Remedy do frequently do it over the course of a single song. If you’re not in the mood for it, then it could be something of a challenge, but as soon as the band takes you by the hand there’s no chance that you won’t be in the mood.
95 Charing Cross Road is the perfect place to start. A ska guitar, a sweet parping horn section and some beautiful vocal harmonising between Thomson and Hajdarhodizc introduce the band. So far, so normal – it could almost be a No Doubt song. Then come the guitars, and all of a sudden you’re swept away in a tide of frantically fretted chords, lightening drums and a chorus of howling cat calls beseeching you to move them bones and pour neat liquor down your throat. Exhilarating it most certainly is. If you’ve got a glass in your hand when the band set off like this, it’s practically impossible not to throw it in the air and whirl around the living room like a lunatic.
Don’t Count On Us showcases the vocal talents of Hajdarhodizc over a soundtrack that comes on like a gypsy funeral, or wedding – it’s hard to decide which. There’s an undoubted party atmosphere that sweeps across the song, and a tinge of sadness too. Whatever, a celebration’s a celebration isn’t it?
Come Back When You Have More Ambition is a stomping croon that sounds like Nick Cave buggering Tony Curtis whilst an oompah band watches on: an image that leaps far too readily to mind for our liking. What have this band done to us?
This is a record full of sorrow (Gypsy Hospital Death March), humour (You Have Wasted Your Life, Now Please Stop Wasting Your Money), and death (I Won’t Argue When I’m Dead). Ultimately it adds up to a non-stop series of delights from a band that’s far too concerned with partying to worry about whether or not these songs could be construed as a kind of novelty, or whether there’s enough depth to the lyrics. You shouldn’t worry about that either – just concentrate on getting your handclaps right on Hit Hard, Aim Low, which is disturbingly close to sounding as if it might be a long lost Grease number.
The Penny Black Remedy sound like they’re probably something of a handful live, and to spend too much time in their company will almost result in sore legs from dancing and a pounding head from the hangover that you had no intention of getting. Don’t blame the band for that though. It’ll be no one’s fault but your own.