Idle Tigers - The Spirit Salon [Le Grand Magistery, 2008]

‘The Spirit Salon’ is the debut release by Ross Hawkins, aka Idle Tigers. A peculiarly northern gothic masterpiece that recalls both Jake Thackray’s hilarious narratives, and Philip Jeays’s more comedic moments. There is also a healthy dose of Momus 's frequent explorations in analogue baroque scattered throughout. This is retro futurism meets vaudeville. A music that only ever existed in the supernatural imagination of Hawkins himself.

Aesthetically astute, and with a keen ear and an even keener eye for audio sartorialism ‘Prologue’ is a lovely opener, immediately placing this album a million miles apart from anything and everything else available in today’s contemporary pop music. Ross Hawkins is an intellectual and arch dandy of Noel Coward proportions, just look at that quite spectacular cover photo of him for a start!

‘The Shadow Falls Across The Fridge, Frank’ is a fine example of Hawkins supercalifragilisticexpialidocious vocal delivery. Whilst not a great singer, Hawkins makes up for his lack of golden tonsils by his sheer lyrical astuteness, and sonic craftsmanship.
‘Giving Up The Ghost’ is an exemplar of this, as is the next track, a quirky duet featuring the voice of Alaska Blue. ‘My Girlfriend Was Insulted By A Futurist artist’ is surely one of the best song titles ever. Hawkins and Blue’s duet is exquisite with some wonderful lyrical interplay such as ‘he was a modernist misogynist art star’ and ‘ the cock of the avant garde’, which is not a phrase that you hear very often in today’s popular fluff. It could almost be an outtake from Momus’s great ‘Ping Pong’ album.

‘Put Your Trousers On’ is Hawkins’s mandolin playing tribute to Thakray’s northern humour.
‘Treat Me Like A Fairy’ is bizarre Japanese electro pop, featuring the voice of Anne Marie Varrella, and sounding like a mutant Yellow Magic Orchestra at a séance.
‘Catfish’ is a perversely aquatically flavoured Spanish sea shanty, as performed by the BBC radiophonic workshop. Before breaking into an eighties type rave breakdown of techno inspired jiggery-pokery. Perverse and quite brilliant! Once more revealing that ‘The Spirit Salon’ is that all too rare example of an album that you can tell was made with love and attention to detail.

‘Jonah’ is another twisted narrative on one man’s own idiosyncratic preoccupations, and would not have been too out of place on Momus’s ‘Circus Maximus’ album. In fact, it appears as if Hawkins is determined to pick up where Momus left off in the early nineties, and by all accounts on this debut he’s actually succeeding.

‘The Wanderer’ is yet another menacing slice of spooky pop, before we get the simply brilliant ‘The Small Electrical Lieutenant’. This is an ace Lazarus like take on Philip K Dick’s dystopian sci-fi, which is simply stunning in its execution, and the sort of track that one wishes Gary Numan were making these days.

‘Every Young Lad Needs Mates’ sees Hawkins apparently reminiscing on the last of his lost boyish days before giving way to ‘Organ Grinders’ and ‘Barnaby’s Visit’, two slices of spooky concrete experimentalism, complete with poltergeist!

‘Unlace Me Behind The Hedge’ sees Hawkins plumy George Formby vocal being applied to a tale of lust and sexual frustration, as he sings ‘I couldn’t be any wetter then I am’ as he approaches the songs, er… climax?

Then we get another fabulously titled track in the shape of ‘Light Entertainer In Prison’. Hawkins once again deploying Atari like programming for his beats and bleeps. ‘The Spirit Salon’s finale is ‘Lord Byron’s Marriage’, which is a gorgeously sculptured piece of left field pop music, that ends proceedings in fine style. ‘The Spirit Salon’ is an esoteric album, in turns both literary and baroque, scattered throughout by intermittent blips and bleeps. Made with vintage analogue synths and Casio keyboards, its eccentric soundscapes and atmospheric collages are stunningly original in their execution. This is audio experimentalism for grown ups, a deeply absorbing album that will hold up to repeated listening, continuing to reveal itself in all its spooky left-field auterism.

Keith Haworth

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Idle Tiger - The Spirit Salon