[sic] Magazine

Babybird – ‘Fake Blood’, Trilogy.

Babybird – Fake Blood Trilogy
Review by Gavin Fearnley.

It went exactly like this.

Monday: Album release.
Tuesday: Album release.
Wednesday: Album release.

The release of a trilogy is a major event in most artists’ lives. But to release the complete works in the same amount of days as there are albums? To put this into perspective, The Cure’s own so-called dark trilogy of Pornography, Disintegration and Bloodflowers were a good 18 years in the making. Wire’s first three albums came out in as many years, and the Earth twice circled the Sun for David Bowie’s revered Berlin collection to appear.

Mais, alors: bang, bang, bang. Like a shotgun being fired into the sky at a despot’s wedding, three full new albums have cannoned down onto an unsuspecting, toilet paper hoarding world.

Yet, for those who follow the work of Stephen Jones, aka Babybird, there is an intriguing lack of surprise. In fact, by trawling Jones’ small but devoted world of fans on social media (or rather, Twitter) one finds something of a knowing expectation.

For most, Stephen Jones is the fella who sang the 90s smash ‘You’re Gorgeous’ – the top ten hit about a top-shelf gentlemen’s magazine shoot, still played for unsuspecting newlyweds having their traditional first dance to this day.

He’s also the bloke who released five remarkable lo-fi self-made albums whilst on the dole in Sheffield catching the attention of the likes of BBC Radio One’s Mark Radcliffe and Lard (former Fall guitarist Mark Riley), British TV comedian Dom Joly and, bizarrely, Hollywood star Johnny Depp. These albums carried titles such as ‘I Was Born a Man’, ‘Fatherhood’ and ‘Dying Happy’ – purportedly depicting the stages of life, like a jazz cigarette smoking version of Shakespeare’s All The World’s A Stage monologue. Tenacious D, it ain’t.

Since flirting with being a household name and producing an album with the help of new friend Depp, Jones has suffered a heart attack and was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, an inner ear condition making the writing of music somewhat of a challenge.

Nonetheless, to say Jones is a prolific workaholic would be as big an understatement as saying Jeff Bezos has a little cash hidden away for a rainy day. He reportedly writes at least one song a day and a cursory glance at his Bandcamp page is overwhelming. Over 200 separate collections of his recordings exist with titles such as ‘Real Life Is Overrated’, ‘I Miss Myself’ and ‘End of Another Weird Year’.

So, in what must count as yet-another weird year, we are brought to the attention of these curiously disfigured new-born triplets, drunkenly peacocking around a circus freak show under the stage name Fake Blood.

Released in reverse order (with the supposed first in the three coming out on the third day), we are plunged, head forced down, deep into the drowning waters of Jones’ obviously over hyperactive mind.

‘False Hope’, the first song on Fake Blood – the album which gives the trilogy its name – is representative of what the listener has come to expect from Jones. Keyboards swoon gently, beats form an undanceable rhythm while he sings a barely audible evensong before it explodes into a cacophony of ecstatic orchestral grandeur. ‘Fire on the Swimming Pool Ice’ is another highlight (“I’ve become the one thing that I hate / Now I’m drowning under all this dead weight / I can’t find a way out / I think it’s too late”) and ‘I Am Hibernating’ soothes with its lone mournful violin.

The second album, There Must Be Something Going On, feels more accessible to the casual listener whilst still maintaining that strange sense of juxtaposition of Scott Walker-esque dense, lush strings backed by Hip-Hop like rhythm sections. The album peaks with the likes of the bitter and scathing ‘Some People’, the playschool pop of ‘I Gotta Hammer Instead of Love’ and, the highlight of all three albums, ‘Not Magic’; soaring and hovering over a COVID-19 diseased populace on lockdown, pouring down streams of rainbow technicolour like when Dorothy first lands in Munchkinland on the Land of Oz.

The third and arguably most sonically adventurous of the three albums, God Upside Down, continues with its instrumental title track not too unlike the soundtrack you’d expect to appear on a Bladerunner spinoff. ‘Church of the Apocalyptic Alcoholic’ samples what appears to be a scene from an old black and white film over looping drums making for a dreamlike experience. ‘Women’, again adorned with samples, takes a melancholic direction reminding us of the gentle, understated hypnagogic style of the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. ‘Please Don’t Go Out’ sees a ‘House of the Rising Sun’-like guitar riff over a surreal mix of Jones’ indecipherable singing, yet more beats and mournful French Horns.

It should be noted that the latter of those songs is just one example of titles which refer to the (at the time of writing) still unfolding coronavirus outbreak. Other such titles include ‘2 Metres Apart’, ‘Ill-Fitted Mask’ and ‘Persistent Cough’, suggesting Jones takes a lot of his inspiration from 24-hour rolling TV news. Indeed, the final track (‘Celebrity Message of Goodwill’) samples Arnold Schwarzenegger calling for people to stay at home over a haunting melody similar to something we’d normally hear by Boards of Canada.

For the non-fan looking for an entrance point to Jones’ vast work, this might not be it. Instead, maybe 2019’s Black Ghost or the Happy Stupid Nothing compilation with the incredible opener ‘Feel’ are more accessible. Nevertheless, this is still a majestic trilogy and one which will stand out amongst Jones’ other material.

Now, after over 200 releases, will Jones take a rest? Of course not. The indefatigable king of DIY pop is sitting on five hours of unreleased material ready to go, according to his recent tweets (his numerous Twitter accounts are like an art project in themselves, by the way).

How does he do it? It’s exhausting just thinking about it. Well, for fans since those early lo-fi albums, it’s a gift – like the welcome return of an old buddy. Long may he tire us out.