In the late 60s and 70s as album sales overtook singles we saw the rise of the concept album, in more recent years as the music industry has become more fragmented and less powerful there seems to be rise in ‘concept bands’, groups built around a central musical or lyrical theme, carving out their own niche in the marketplace. They are often dismissed as mere novelty but bands like Amon Amarth and Alestorm have proved that with hard work and dedication themed bands can be both popular and produce excellent music. Of course the raucous, alcohol-fuelled lifestyles of Vikings and pirates perhaps lend themselves to the metal genre a little easier than The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing's concept of choice – the more austere and chaste age of Queen Victoria's reign.
However, they mine such a rich seam of material from that era's dark underbelly that any notion that they might provide the soundtrack to Dame Judi Dench's next cinematic outing as said monarch is soon demolished. Their previous three albums have been a fine blend of humour, history and heavy music but there has always been a lingering doubt that they are a novelty rather than merely novel. With Double Negative, their fourth full-length release can they finally break those shackles and prove themselves as a band to be taken seriously?
Formed originally by Andrew O’Neill (guitars, vocals) and Andy Heintz (vocals) as part of a stand up comedy show O’Neill was performing, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing (abbreviated even less catchily to TMTWNBBFN) soon evolved into a fully functioning band, the line up eventually completed by Mark Burrows (bass, vocals) and Jez Miller (drums). Initially swallowed up by the Steampunk subculture the band started to acquire a dedicated but varied fan base, some coming for the Victorian stylings, others for the humour and others for the crowd-friendly, energetic blend of punk, metal and a touch of vaudeville.
Musically the new album has stripped out the vaudeville and indeed much of the metal and instead focuses their sound into more straight ahead punk, although it is still probably their heaviest set yet. It is also their most serious. While the humour is still present it is darker and more macabre than on their previous, more overtly funny albums. That said there is still a sharp wit to the lyrics, albeit cynical and satirical, rather than laugh out loud funny, as if the Dead Kennedys were raging against the hereditary ascension to power rather than Nazi Punks and Republicans. TMTWNBBFN appear to be waging a class war on a bygone era.
In fact the whole album is angrier and more political than you might expect from a band more renowned for the comedic rather than the polemic, and yes it does sound rather daft to describe an album who’s entire lyrical content is based on events that happened well over a hundred years ago as political, but the anti-capitalist message in songs such as ‘God Is In The Bottom Line’ is as relevant now as it was back then.
There are more jovial moments, ‘Occam’s Razor’ - a caustic take down of the Ripper industry - is a joy, and lead single ‘Supply and Demand’ is probably the catchiest song about grave robbing you’ll have heard in quite some time, but as a whole the album could do with a few more light patches within the dark. Even the gloriously titled ‘There She Glows’ - a song about Marie Curie - keeps the humour as black as possible.
The belly laughs may have gone, but the music is stronger than ever before. This is certainly no novelty album. Much of the steam may have been removed to leave only the punk, but what remains is an utterly original, intelligent and surprisingly historically accurate album, as perfect for these turbulent times as those of the 19th century. Steamcore, anyone?
Supply and Demand
Obscene Fucking Machine
God is in the Bottom Line
There She Glows
There's Going to be a Revolution
Catch them on tour here:
MON 12 MAR - Nottingham, Rescue Rooms
TUE 13 MAR - Newcastle, Trillians
WED 14 MAR - Edinburgh, Bannermans
THU 15 MAR - Birmingham, Castle & Falcon
SAT 17 MAR - York, Fulford Arms
SUN 18 MAR - Milton Keynes, Craufurd Arms
MON 19 MAR - Cardiff, Globe
TUE 20 MAR - Chester, The Live Rooms
WED 21 MAR - Leicester, The Shed
THU 22 MAR - Exeter, The Cavern
FRI 23 MAR - London, The Dome
SAT 24 MAR - Southampton, Joiners
SUN 25 MAR - Bristol, The Exchange
TUE 17 JUL - Detroit US, Motor City Steamcon
And follow them online, and pre-order the album, here: