Stephen Morris (BBC)
Switch on the Television of Cruelty
The Television of Cruelty were last seen on these pages scoring an eighth place position in the Top Ten of 2005. They earned their place through a blend of English lyricism and melodic pop.
'Lower England' album
Times have changed but these two sensibilities, pivotal to the success of Television of Cruelty, linger on.
True, they may have mellowed a little: the bitter rants about the failings of Big Brother have been kept to a minimum, but they continue to wear their politics, quite literally, on their (record) sleeve.
The cover features images of pit strikes, poll tax riots and anti racism posters. Oh, and a picture of Debbie Harry.
Television of Cruelty's Lower England can indeed be judged by its cover. It is a collection of songs that seem to look back to a bygone era - a typically English era of mid 80's austerity. Forget partying like it's 1999. These guys are going to demo like it's 1985.
And they're going to do it, not with the sound of thrashing punk, but with melodic pop. Think Cinerama. Think the Beautiful South. Occasionally you can even think The Good, The Bad and The Queen. Whatever you do, don't think of clash city rockers training in vain while London’s burning.
Power to the People (20 Years Late):
The album is littered with references and themes drawing on this bygone 80s era. "La-La Land" takes a pop at consumerism amid a time of dockers' strikes.
Meanwhile the mirror image of that song's "sumptuous softness" can be found in the punning "Mind-Altering Rugs". Here, a salesman boasts of items that don't quite work - "But you got to remember: you don't get cheaper than this".
The theme of 80s politics and cultural history returns on "I Remember When You Could Smoke on the Bus" with a reference to "The Tebbit kiss, a touch of Despair".
Just as with their previous EPs, Happy 4 Less and Teenage Wasteland (now compiled on the album Season 2), Television of Cruelty have embraced the world of English wet weekends.
"Midsummer Dreaming" and "Doncaster Sidings" were the songs that ToC used to convey their message of days being "dull, with the chance of more dullness later".
Here, the very English themes are reintroduced with paeans to a lonely wait for the train ("Fountains"), a cold wait for the bus ("Bus Lights") and a drunken walk home from the pub ("S**t for Brains").
Thoroughly English Telly:
From the opening burst of Greenwich pips on track one to the dying of the same in the album's final moments, Lower England, exudes a quiet, despairing Englishness. Even the title takes this unimpressed pessimism to its heart.
So it's no surprise that the penultimate song features the following lyric: "The thief in the garden/ has taken the harvest/ it grew in the summer/ now it has gone." Perhaps the surprise is that there was a harvest in the first place.
All of which makes the final song, "And May Your God Go With You", sound all the more desperate. Despite its faintly liturgical language, and a less than faint whiff of homage to Dave Allen, one cannot help but sense that this is less of a blessing and more of a despairing, pessimistic sigh.
While Ian Williams may be singing "May no lightning strike you", you get the sense that he's already succumbed to the fact that it probably will anyway.
This album shows that ToC have not lost their touch. Occasionally the disconcerting gap between pop ballad style and gritty lyrical substance does jar, as it did on the band's first two outings, but when there are lyrics such as "Never been as happy when you didn't go to Leeds", I can't complain too much.
I went to Leeds once. By accident. Got stuck at the train station for three hours. I sympathise entirely.
Thank God for bands like The Television Of Cruelty
When I saw the name of this band, The Television Of Cruelty, I just knew instantly that this album was gonna be something somewhat removed from the norm. How right I was! And, how glad I am!! 'Lower England' by The Television Of Cruelty is simply magnificent!
The Television Of Cruelty are not musical conformists - this intriguing outfit are doing something very smart and extremely entertaining. 'Lower England' is what used to be referred to as a 'concept album' - nowt wrong with that, coz I'm pretty sure that's what it is - the album is a set of songs all based on a story-telling theme of, yes you guessed it, 'Lower England'. To find out what's meant by 'Lower England' you'll just have to get hold of a copy and give it a bloody good listening to coz I'm not gonna tell you here!
'Lower England' is like a much-needed light at the end of an extremely long and dark tunnel. That tunnel being the years of relentless indie music that purports to be innovative and fresh (well, I suppose it was once!). The light is the refreshingly creative way that The Television Of Cruelty have gone about their work here - well written songs performed with relish and professionalism that come together as a somewhat enlightening vision of 'Lower England'. Now, none of these guys are the best vocalists you'll have come across but what they do is get their story across in their own inimitable way. Musically, 'Lower England' is a real mish-mash of styles - for me, that's just fine, you have to look at this work as a 'bigger picture' and look inside it with an open mind and a bit of vision. 'Lower England' is a remarkably well put together work that will not be to everyone's taste - of that I've no doubt. But, give it a chance, open up and let it in and you'll soon see the beauty that lies within the 'beast'.
The Television Of Cruelty have come up with something that's not only pleasantly different but totally enjoyable - I love every second of it - this is my kinda music, something that's not superficial, something that's well thought out, well structured and just bloody great to sit back and enjoy!! I just wish that there were more people using their creativity in this way - the music scene would be a much richer place for it! Thank God for bands like The Television Of Cruelty - they bring sanity (well sort of!) back to music and make it all worth while. 'Lower England' by The Television Of Cruelty is superbly entertaining, stunningly crafted, sensitively performed - exquisite, breathtaking and just so bloody refreshing!! (Why can't there be more of this out there?)