Double Negative by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For NothingRelease date: March 9, 2018
They’ve met Cthulhu, and been to the moon with Jules Verne. They’ve slept in haunted houses, fled from the zombified Prince Albert, learned evolution from Darwin himself, and been ‘diagnosed’ by RV Pierce MD. Having been thoroughly pickled in gin, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing (TMTWNBBFN) have come to us in the 21st Century with a warning in the shape of Double Negative, their fourth studio album: the Victorian era was much, much darker than we know.
Previous albums wove fantasy into history on songs like ‘Victoria’s Secret’, ‘Margate Fhtagn’, and ‘Boilerplate Daniel’. Double Negative dispenses entirely with this notion, presenting listeners with nine songs lifted purely from historical events. Burke & Hare, Amelia Dyer, the exploits of the infamous Hellfire Club, and even Jack the Ripper are all subjects on the album. The latter has his legend thoroughly and ironically debunked by his biggest fans in ‘Occam’s Razor’, a song that expresses frustration at how the policemen bungled the investigation and sensationalist journalists misrepresented the facts to make a quick buck.
From the very beginning, Double Negative is much more caustic than its predecessors. Lead single and opening track ‘Supply & Demand’ retains the cheeky but oh-so-black humour of songs like ‘Inheritor’s Powder’ and mixes in some of the heaviest punk they’ve ever. But it’s the happiest-sounding song on the album which says a lot, given that its subject is the dark deeds of infamous grave robbers Burke & Hare. Immediately following on is ‘Baby Farmer’, a song all about Amelia Dyer, the noted serial killer whose victims were all babies. The opening track aside, The Men have mostly dispensed with the jollier, more melodic side of their music and dark-but-cheeky humour that went with it. Instead, Double Negative shows off furious, crusty punk and dark, angry, historical stories, with a dash of humour thrown in for good measure. Victorian Britain was not a pleasant place to be, and Messrs Heintz, O’Neill, Burrow, and Miller are here to tell us all about it.
This isn’t to say that the comedy is completely absent. The humour with which previous albums were suffused is just as gleefully grim as it ever has been: ‘Supply & Demand’ cheekily has one poor student panicking in dissection class because the corpse on the slab is his grandmother. But they’re dead anyway, so what’s the harm? ‘There She Glows’ asks Marie Curie, whose notebooks are too radioactive to handle, what the use is of glory and fame with “bad beer bubbling through your veins.” In ‘Baby Farmer’, a customer describing Mrs Dyer’s exploits has the gall to complain that the baby’s murder wasn’t the service promised.
But these humorous moments shouldn’t distract the listener from how angry this album is. The Men have stripped away their vaudeville flourishes in favour of crusty, caustic punk. Granted, it’s more melodic and not quite as lo-fi as true crust, but it’s much harsher on the ears than its predecessors. They have very much eschewed the ‘steam’ in favour of the punk: at 29 minutes long, it’s the shortest album in their current discography, further cementing its punk credentials. The chemistry across the album is as tight as it has ever been. Not a single note is wasted, no superfluous solos weigh anyone down, though the pace could do with being a tad more varied – the one and only problem with the album is that it’s over too soon. The vocals, shared between lead vocalist Andy Heintz and guitarist Andrew O’Neill, are furious and melodic in equal measure: take ‘Disease Control’ as a perfect example. It examines the 1854 cholera outbreak through the vocals, which switch easily between Andrew’s piercing screams and Andy’s more melodious singing.
Lyrically, when not making dark jokes about serial killers, this is the most politically-charged they’ve ever been. Forget ‘Doing It For The Whigs’. Both ‘God’s In The Bottom Line’ and ‘There’s Going To Be A Revolution’ demonstrate an unmatched fury with the bloated industrial-capitalist regime that has existed since the 1800s. The former tells the tragic, gory story of children employed in cotton factories after the advent of mechanised weaving, and concludes that ‘The pursuit of money is divine/the fingerless children are collateral damage.’ The latter heralds the uprising of the poor, though quite when is never defined. Its sludgy, menacing, feedback-laden guitars, and repetitive, almost militaristic drums courtesy of Jez Miller make for a terrifying revolutionary anthem that should have any Tory listeners quaking in their suits.
Double Negative might show The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing at their angriest, but it also shows off a renewed vigour. The loss of the vaudeville musical flourishes and the more fantastical story writing elements in the lyrics could be mourned, as could the sheer pace of the album bringing it to its conclusion far too soon. But this would do it a disservice. An extremely worthy addition to their canon, it’s the most electrifying half-hour you’ll ever spend.