[5 August 2008]
In this writer’s opinion, the British music scene is in sore need of a kick in the britches. The hype machine that drives London and elsewhere seems to spit out bands faster than they have time to develop, and stylistic outliers such as Test Icicles and the Klaxxons get burned out trying to carry a “scene” with just one album. I suppose this is more of a complaint with the system of promotion rather than the music itself, as there is wonder to be had in the periphery. A prime example of a band being uniquely and vitally British is the Chap out of London. They approach the pop song like insane chemists, mixing acids and bases, oxides and carbon dioxides, until the result finally blows up in their faces, their desired result. After two strong full-lengths, including 2005’s excellent Ham, they have come up with Mega Breakfast, their best yet and one of the most distinctive pop albums of the year.
Whereas Ham was slightly marred by a slow middle section that played away from the strengths of the Chap, Mega Breakfast is a continuously fun experience. They kick things off with “They Have a Name”, a literal beckoning to move your feet as they intone, “hearthrob hits the dance floor” over a hard-hitting beat, cheesy orchestra hits, and layered vocal backing. It sounds like something Timbaland would come up with if he was from Leeds as opposed to Virginia. The mixture of strings and electronic elements in “Fun and Interesting” brings to mind fellow UK natives Tunng, though The Chap have grander things in mind with a huge chorus begging a cloner to “clone another me”.
The variety of sounds and influences on Mega Breakfast is dizzying and intoxicating, though it is the smart arrangements and ear for melody that make the Chap a great band. “Carlos Walter Wendy Stanley” has a simple vocal hook that belies the odd harmonies in the background, and the rollicking middle section crashes in from left field. The quirky guitar lines and Morricone-esque chanting added to the mix are just icing on a strange cake (butterscotch-kiwi perhaps?). The soft-rock guitar at the heart of “Surgery” seems humorous at first, until the male-female vocal combo of Johannes Von Weizsacker and Claire Hope kicks in and complements it perfectly. Only after a few listens do you notice the brilliant reprise of its mildly gospel line “where’s my soul gone” in the full-blown church chorus of the penultimate track “Wuss Wuss”.
At some points the witty humor of the band threatens to derail their compositions, as in the odd choice to impersonate David Bowie in the single, “Proper Rock”. Yet their lyrics and new-wave guitar riffs are at their most pointed here, and they form an integrated plea: “proper rock, don’t disappear too”. “The Health of Nations” almost looses the momentum of the album, but the beautiful melody that is echoed with strings serves more as a breath of air. The album works as a well-mixed DJ set, with appropriate valleys and peaks.
The album cover is perhaps a nod to Jeff Koons’ balloon animal sculptures, with a Chap twist: there’s chocolate inside those things! They have assimilated so much music, high art and low, that the boundaries between them must seem both ambiguous and laughable. Their music is so fun to listen to that the intellectual and technical know-how it took to make it is always in the background. Whether or not the Chap is part of a scene or a greater trend is beside the point; with Mega Breakfast they have proven that though bands will come and go, there is always room for mad scientists to come along and blow it all up.