[25 July 2012]
These days, you’re only as good as your last album. Unless you’re a reality show contestant, of course – in which case you’re only as good as your last single.That could leave Cornershop in a precarious position, if you’re taking chart positions into account: their last high water mark was with the chart-topping Norman Cook remix of their track “Brimful of Asha” – which hit number one in the UK way back in 1998. Of course, if you’re an alternative act in 2012, chart positions mean pretty much zilch, such is the state of the music industry. Mind you – Urban Turban – The Singhles Club is far too obscure, quirk-laden and chaotic to ever trouble the charts anyway. But since when did great music equal guaranteed enviable chart position?
In fact, “Brimful of Asha” should be long enough ago for Cornershop to be respected for their current output rather than their past successes – and in fact, in a 21-year career, it pretty much amounts to a blip. Urban Turban – The Singhles Club, however, is something much more intriguing – and maintains the trajectory of constant experimentation we’ve witnessed from Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres ever since they wrote a song about watching Rocky films.
However, the most innovative idea of this album is probably its biggest downfall. Half the tracks here have already been released as part of the Singhles Club – a series of singles released by Cornershop, all of them collaborations. None of them, however, save for “What Did the Hippie Have In His Bag?” – the song that both tops and tails this album – feature Tjinder Singh’s vocals. One of Cornershop’s most recognisable – and strongest – assets, they’re missed on the likes of “Non-Stop Radio” (French-style electronica) and “Beacon Radio 303” (Bollywood funk that seems to be, if its title is anything to go by, about a long-rebranded commercial radio station).
However, what Singh’s silence does achieve is that it lets this album fizz with eclecticism. Funk is largely the order of the day, which is great: we have the Sly Stone stylings of “Concrete Concrete” with featured vocalist Kay Kwong, which bobs along with elated crowd noise and motivational commands peppering its four minutes. And the kooky “Something Makes You Feel Like”, featuring SoKo, is the perfect summer soundtrack with twee vocals and a perky bassline. Elsewhere, “Solid Gold” is early ‘00s dance beats that ape Daft Punk; it’s a surprise to hear it from Cornershop, but it is not one of the most inspired moments here. “Inspector Bamba Singh’s Lament” is Isaac Hayes surgically removed from the Shaft soundtrack and dropped in downtown Mumbai.
And then we’re back to the quirky “What Did the Hippie Have in His Bag”, a reprise that sees the welcome return of Singh and classroom of Lancashire schoolchildren, singing about jam and crayons. As at the start of the record, it’s Sesame Street-meets-Yellow Submarine – and acts as an effective bookend for an album that’s taken us to every reference point in Cornershop’s palette. Which is the perfect summary for this album, really: Cornershop have stocked up on musical friends and touchpoints to deliver a heterogeneous album that confirms, wherever they go next, there’s plenty more in the ‘Shop window to see.