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Imagine for a moment what the Beatles's White Album might have sounded like if it had been recorded in 1978... just as eclectic, just as odd in places but with an added bit of snap and snarl; a bit more punk attitude, perhaps.
Well, the first album from south London’s The Weird Things is all that plus, perhaps, a little bit more. Ten Digit Freak is the proverbial mixed bag of musical treats and for reasons that aren’t easy to describe, it mostly hangs together. So what exactly do we get?
Album opener, ‘Dirty Dog’, is a bit Iggy, a bit garage band and a bit punk anthem – it does the trick and gets things off to a high octane start. Charlie, the band’s female singer, opens her lungs and everything takes off. Track one bodes well for what’s to come.
‘Can You See Them?’ takes the pace down a little but it’s all change for ‘Colin’ – track three features flamenco guitar… yup, odd, but oddly effective, as is track four, ‘Mr Jones’, a sweeping hymn to David Bowie. Next up’s ‘Rock and Roll Juggler’, which plunders the Penetration back catalogue and sprinkles it with some X-Ray Spex for good measure.
‘Tick Tock’ sounds like it’s from the lower reaches of the John Peel Festive Fifty circa 1982, in a good way, while ‘Smile Hello’ is filler not killer, the album’s first real misfire, partly because of the slightly hectoring and lecturing lyrics. A bit more humour or a bit more bite and the song might have got away with it – as it is it just sounds a bit condescending.
Title track ‘Ten Digit Freak’ is, frankly, odd. The Jew’s Harp and harmonica are great, the sway and strut work a treat – the lyrics, however, are not odd enough to be truly weird. It’s a bit forced and a bit ridiculous; not even Jonathan Richmond could have made them work and he got away with an ‘Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket’. It was down by the peas and carrots by the way.
Returning to the White Album riff for a moment – ‘Lay Out Your Soul’ is this album’s ‘Ob La Di Ob La Da’. Some will bounce along to its ska-flavoured swagger; others will think ‘what’s this doing here?’ It’s the black sheep of this CD – not because it’s a bad song but because it simply just doesn’t fit.
‘Keep it Gold’ could be The Sundays or The Cowboy Junkies, which is just fine and dandy, creating a mellow mood that’s immediately broken by ‘Pay the Piper’. This one’s back with the energy and some great guitar playing. Sadly, the lyrics and very lower sixth philosophy – you’d have needed Johnny Rotten to deliver the ‘piss holes in the snow’ line to have stood even half a chance of getting away with it.
And finally, ‘Honey Pie’… no, sorry, ‘Ultimate Sin’. It’s a comb and tissue paper take on The Temperance Seven, albeit singing about taking a piss in the hot tub. And it’s great even if it’s a throwaway track that really belongs on a Bonzo Dog B-side.
So what have we got here? Well, it’s a kinda punk White Album that barely hangs together in places but works despite that [on the whole]… just like the White Album. The main failing of Ten Digit Freak is not, however, the diversity – which is to be applauded in an age of homogeneity – it’s the lyrics. Dump the sneering at the straight people please – it’s not smart, unlike the majority of this album which is actually really rather good.