By: Stuart Benjamin
I can’t think of many Steampunk-rock acts, so this one will do for starters. The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, aside from having the kind of name that keeps reviewers copy-and-pasting on autopilot, are an act bristling with punk-rock energy, hard-metal musical chops, anger, and humour, in equal parts. You could dismiss them as a novelty act (and Steampunk as a genre, isn’t everybody’s cup of laudanum either) but to do so would be to miss out on an album that’s comedically sly, politically tough, and most of all, great fun.
Imagine, if you will, that bands like The Sex Pistols, or Sham ‘69, or The Buzzcocks, somehow were allowed to exist in a parallel universe in 1877, rather than 1977, and you’re halfway to understanding what <Ctrl+c> The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing <Ctrl+v> are attempting to do. Not, of course, that Victorian times were absent from musical dissent or outrageous rock ‘n’ roll behaviour – check out Marie Lloyd – The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing carefully keep a foot in the present as well as the past. They aren’t typical Victorians, because they simply aren’t Victorian, but what they do, and do really well, is reflect Victorian times on our modern age. Songs about the Victorian underclass, populated by an endless parade of seedy, unsavoury, and hypocritical characters, could so easily apply to our current age. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re more advanced that our ancestors. Well, technology may change, but human nature changes much less quickly, if at all. The joke’s on us.
‘Not Your Typical Victorian’ starts off the record and sets out the stall – marking out a band who won’t fall into Victorian stereotypes and from there forward they set out to debunk all kinds of long held canards about Victorian Times (™). ‘A Clean Sweep’ follows it up with a very funny poke at child exploitation – “Oh No, what a to-do! The orphan child got stuck up the flue” sings a Sweep whose contribution to child care comes directly from the King Herod School.
Debunking continues in ‘This House Is Not Haunted’, ‘The Worst Sideshow Ever’, in the blackest of humorous ways – think of the songs from the TV series ‘Horrible Histories’ but with more swearing. ‘Turned Out Nice Again’ celebrates – if that’s the right word – London’s notoriously noxious smog. It’s not the only song about the appalling conditions of everyday life for people in the Nineteenth Century; ‘How I Became An Orphan’ lists a whole range of unpleasant ways to die – especially if you were too poor to afford treatment as many where – and will be again if pig fancier Cameron and his droogs get their way and privatise the NHS.
‘Miner’ picks up on the theme of social injustice and the horrible inevitability that your father’s and grandfather’s profession would also be yours. ‘Third Class Coffin’ again brings social injustice to the fore, proving that even in death, there was little respect for the underclass of our society. One of my favourite songs in this collection is ‘I’m In Love With (Marie Lloyd)’, not just because it references one of my favourite music hall performers, but also because it’s a great song about the obsessiveness of fandom, and the song would work for any modern celebrity that you’d care to name.
Don’t just enjoy the satirical songs though, also enjoy a band who really command their powers and who can pogo from punk to the long-haired thrash of a mosh-pit in the blink of an eye. They’re a really tight bunch of lunatics who must do one hell of a live show. I really enjoyed my time with the Victorian punks, and thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t live then. Mind you, there’s as much injustice around today and you don’t have to look very far to find it – so where are all the witty, angry bands like The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing? In short supply, I fear.