Seldom do debuts possess such self-assurance as The Grim Northern Social
. Brilliantly conceived and powerfully performed, it boasts the flamboyance and ambition of prime-time Manson
with the intelligence and wit of Carter
at their very best. Exuberantly led by singer Ewan MacFarlane, Grim Northern Social deal in a pumping rock & roll rooted in the 1970s but smartly embellished with very modern electronics courtesy of Andy Cowan. The real star of the show, though, is MacFarlane himself. Oozing personality, he plays with his voice, taunting and teasing the listener in the grand theatrical style of Alex Harvey
. And, like Harvey, he would appear to have been influenced by the sometimes playful, often painful but always empathetic work of Jacques Brel.
"Maybe the Time", "Star" and "Snap the Imposters" all describe a grimy underworld while encouraging those involved to escape to a finer life. Elsewhere, with "Gasoline Queen", he slips the line "She sucks like a Hoover" into a clearly heartfelt love song and, by sheer force of charm, gets away with it. "Snap the Imposters" even dares to drop into "Que Sera Sera" before rising to a psych-rock freak-out. This is a good-time album, made with serious intent, and it's balanced to near-perfection. --Dominic Wills