Music Review: Bill Bailey in Metal by Bill Bailey


Music Review

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Album: Bill Bailey in Metal
Artist: Bill Bailey
Year: 2011
Genre: Comedy, Metal (sort of)
Songs: 9

It has to be said, I do love Bill Bailey. To be fair, there are a lot of reasons to. Aside from the fact that he's an incredibly funny comedian, he's also insanely musically talented, able to whip between multiple instruments and genres in his shows to produce hysterical and satirical comedy, often set to music and accompanied by Bailey's whimsical persona. But, does this attitude successfully transfer onto a CD?

Not entirely, I'm afraid.

Bill Bailey's Bill Bailey in Metal is a collection of some of Bailey's more famous songs from across his career that he used at Sonisphere. The name suggests the album would be metal, a suggestion made all the more plausible by Bailey's appearance at Sonisphere; in reality only a handful of tracks can really be called metal or hard rock of any kind. This, of course, doesn't mean that the album is bad, or that the songs don't live up to expectations. In fact, some of them are brilliantly reworked into their new rock trappings, while others display a flair for electronica. Perhaps this is the point; in his live shows Bailey delights in playing with his audience's expectations, and he continues to here.

The album opens with the instrumental Lazer Gazer, a neat electronic-rock fusion that feels at times eerie and melancholy thanks to the high-pitched beeps of the keyboard and the dark, mournful violin backing. The opening is underpinned by a nice crunchy guitar, although this is replaced halfway through by a screeching lead lick. All of these together not only make for a lovely sounding track, but it all combines to form a crescendo before a prerecorded female voice exclaims that there's an unexpected item in the bagging area. While it's not a great guffaw of laughter, it's a fantastic sounding track and elicits a little chortle before the album kicks off for real with Leg of Time, a tribute to the fantasy-fueled prog-rock of the '70s. Like the greatest tracks of the genre, it constructs a narrative; in this case, it tells the tale of Terry the thief who steals one of Time's titular legs. It revels in its absurdity - of course it does, it's a Bill Bailey song. From lines such as "Ride a white pig to the edge of Lapland/Why did I do that? I don't know" and "Magical chanting is no crime/When you're suckled by a blind Alsatian", to the absolutely wonderful non-sequitur Cockney middle 8, the song is consistently funny as well as fantastically constructed and forms the first highlight of the album.

Following this is Love Song, an at first morose, then sickly sweet ballad that highlights and then parodies typical love song clichés and phrases before descending into a furious and heartbroken hard rock finale complete with a rock-and-roll scream and solo. Again, most of the comedy here comes from Bailey's lyrics, which gleefully tear apart typical protestations of love. For example, the protagonist's love is likened to that most romantic of animals, a duck, clumsily falling over its own feet while it tries to stand on ice. However, by the end of the song the duck now "lies shredded in the hoisin of your lies". While it's not as funny as Leg of Time, and nor is it as musically engaging, it's still an amusing song and you'll find yourself both horrified at and furious with the protagonist by the end.

Apocalyptic News is an odd track. Another instrumental, it plays off an idea Bailey mentioned in his earliest stand-up shows; namely, that the opening to the BBC News sounds like it is the harbinger of the end of times. To that end, Bailey frames that opening with an odd medley of creepy chords, effects ripped from an early science-fiction show and funk guitar. If that sounds like it shouldn't work, that's because it kind of doesn't. The song shifts from genre to genre abruptly, and each section is overlaid by a different effect that sounds separate, creating a strange dissonance. After that, we're treated to a cover of Scarborough Fair, but with a twist - this version is Bill Bailey pretending to be German industrial metallers Rammstein, and so the song features a chugging guitar riff underlying an electronic lead while Bailey sings along in broken German. While the song is amusing the joke does wear thin and it ends up being not quite as funny as Leg of Time or Love Song. The same issue happens with Cars, a French language cover of Gary Numan's Cars and Das Hokey-Kokey, a German cover of the Hokey-Kokey (unsurprisingly). Again, the music is fine (and Cars even features a car horn solo) but the joke wears out quite soon.

The penultimate track is Oblivion, Bailey's take on emo. While it may be crass to laugh about self-harm, you can't really help but chuckle at the protagonist (who works at a coffee house) slapping himself with a flapjack or fumbling over the word "Why?" because he's used a coffee stirrer to stab his tongue. The main musical draw comes from the fact that around a minute-and-a-half in Bailey switches to an almost death metal genre, with a powerful guitar rhythm and growled vocals. Ultimately it ends up being an average song - a bit bland in terms of the music (death metal break notwithstanding), but the piano-led outro does lead nicely into the final song, Pot Plant Elegy, which combines a morose piano with the strange sci-fi effects from Apocalyptic News to form a beautiful and surreal ending to a surreal album.

With 9 songs the album sits at just under 25 minutes and I can't help but be glad. While the stand out songs are clustered at the start it does mean the latter half of the album is a little flat, but I can't but be impressed at it as a whole. The music is superbly crafted and it does manage to capture, at least in part, Bailey's absurdist humour. While it's obviously not an acceptable substitute for his stand-up, Bill Bailey in Metal is still a decent album for fans and might help introduce one or two new listeners to that wonderful part-troll comedian.

Best song: Leg of Time
Worst: Das Hokey-Kokey
Recommendation: Buy it if you're a fan, listen to it on YouTube first if you aren't.

 

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