‘tuneful, pithy guitar pop delivered with panache and wit‘ – Neill Dougan on Ginnels‘ fourth LP, A Country Life
Back when your correspondent was but a lad, there was a guy in our class in school – let’s call him Dave (for that was his actual name) – who was generally considered to be, in the parlance of the time, a messer. Constantly in trouble with the authorities for some low-level misdemeanour or other, repeatedly copping detention for some scam or jape, Dave was nonetheless a popular fella with both fellow pupils and teachers, for the simple reason that he was a charming bastard, with an easy smile and a knack for putting people at their ease. You can go far on a bit of charm. The last time we saw Dave, he was strolling out the school gates for the final time after doing far better than predicted in his school-leaving exams, flashing a cheeky ‘v’-sign at the headmaster as he left.
“Why the boring anecdote?” we hear you ask. Well, put simply, listening to ‘A Country Life’ – the rollicking, ramshackle and thoroughly enjoyable fourth album from Dublin’s Ginnels – we’re reminded of that naughty schoolboy who talked back, messed around, misbehaved and ultimately achieved far more than anyone expected. For, like the bold Dave, this album is a charming bastard.
Thus, piano-led opener ‘My God!’ wins over the listener with a lovely string part, a daft synth solo and a chorus hook that’s so lovely you barely notice that you’re listening to a lyric (“A coliseum of startled rabbits/In a line”) that appears to make no sense whatsoever. ‘Car’s Parked’ and ‘Woodlands’ are exemplary pieces of sugar-rush guitar pop, the latter carried along by Ruan Van Vliet’s propulsive drumming (this is apparently the first Ginnels album to feature “proper” drums, and they are uniformly excellent). ‘This Love’ almost falls over itself in its scramble to impart its gleeful message (“This love, it’s yours, it’s yours”), while the already-effervescent ‘Not What You Think’ is further enlivened by a gloriously unhinged fuzz guitar solo.
If ‘A Country Life’ lacks the mad, bug-eyed ambition of Ginnels’ 2012 sprawling lo-fi masterpiece ‘Crowns’, it makes up for it by dint of its sheer, short-sharp-shock classic pop conciseness. Indeed, the album in its entirety (clocking in at a brisk 36 minutes) is a testament to frontman Mark Chester’s way with an infectious tune – barely a moment passes without the listener being bashed in the face with an irresistible melody or hummable hook. Mid-album high points ‘God Botherers’ and ‘Honestly’, for example, rattle by in less than four breathless minutes, all exuberant, chugging riffage, ragged guitar solos and honeyed vocal harmonies. As if to reassure us that this is indeed the same band who released ‘Crowns’, they also sneak in the odd moment of discordant weirdness, such as downbeat odd-fest ‘Ashtown Memorial’ (“With a couple of vertebrae unset, I returned/I remembered the dangerous things I’d learned to do”, Chester laments, before a see-sawing, caterwauling violin sends the song lurching into the leftfield). ‘The Great Escape’, meanwhile, is a lilting, gentle moment of respite that sees Chester cooing, “You’re not lost, you’re not lost”.
For the most part, though, this is tuneful, pithy guitar pop delivered with panache and wit. That it retains a homespun, slightly dishevelled quality is very much part of its appeal. The album concludes with three final melody-drenched pop gems: the mid-paced stomp of ‘Settle Down’, the urgent ‘Doing Fine’ and the understated shuffle of ‘Milky Murmur’ which skips along in low-key fashion for two-and-a-half minutes before collapsing in on itself and stumbling to a halt. It’s a suitable ending for a record that’s a little bit bedraggled, occasionally a tad bent out of shape, but which is ultimately a triumph. Like we said, you can go far on a bit of charm.