Death permeates almost every word on The Frighteners!, Joe Innes’ début album with his band of roustabouts The Cavalcade. From the opening strains of the stripped-back ‘Pet Cemetery’, in which Innes remembers the day he buried a dead rat in his back garden, to the closing track ‘Too Many Songbirds’ whose country-tinged sway asks dark questions of the orchard (“Shall I bury coffins, or apple cores?”), it is clear something’s nagging the young singer-songwriter.
The little note Innes sent with his CD mentions that he sold his comic collection in order to afford the recording fees for The Frighteners! Their influence is visible in the album’s artwork, which shows a variety of spooks and monsters creeping out of city cracks to surround the band. The Violent Femmes-channelling title track references it directly with talk of vampires and zombies, and it brings about one of the most glorious couplets I’ve heard in a while (“I never knew the vampires ’til their teeth were in my veins/I never knew the zombies ’til they were chewing on my brains.”) before things take a turn for the romantic with ‘Sweetheart Revolution I’. But even this isn’t without its traumas. Sung by Innes and who I presume is the band’s violinist Amy Smith, the couple end up at each others’ necks throwing volleys of insults back and forth while still trying to convince themselves they’re meant to be together. To twist the knife further ‘Sweetheart Revolution II’ follows suit, turning proceedings into an upbeat free-for-all complete with “dum-da-da-das”.
‘Life Sized Doll House’ sticks out as the only obvious detour. Musically, with its lilting barn-dance violin, it sounds too twee to carry its weighty subject matter. There is none of Innes’ black humour evident as he talks about missing a father figure and the combination comes off as a little bit skewed and awkward. Thankfully it picks up again with the storming ‘God’s Gift To The Gunshy’ and the quietly macabre ‘Too Many Songbirds’.
Short, sweet and deceptively squeamish, The Frighteners! might fool you first time through. Innes’ uncertain voice and the band’s patient, understated backing can lure you into a false sense of security and it could take some getting past. Whatever you do, though, please don’t write this off as A. N. Other collection of twee indie pop – this one’s got some serious teeth on it.