Cornershop: Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast

[7 September 2009]

By Stephen Rylance

It’s seven years since the last installment of the Cornershop saga arrived in the form of the brilliantly-named Handcream for a Generation.  Almost a generation on, Tjinder Singh and co may be child-rearing thirty-somethings but they’re still bedroom-mirror romantics with one foot stuck firmly in the days of the Ford Cortina. If anything, the nostalgia dial has been turned up: Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast is an album that often seems to be playing on a dansette in a glitterball-lit corner of Hanif Kureishi’s frontal lobe.

Opener “Who Fingered Rock and Roll” is a melange of vintage Stones riffs and spangly Bolan boogie that tethers its ‘yeah yeah yeahs’ to a punky message about the besmirching of our collective pop innocence. It’s followed by “Soul School”, a melodic, sitar-drenched tribute to 1970s adolescence, evoking long summer Saturday afternoons listening to seven-inch singles round your mate’s house.

The retro theme continues on the title track. It starts by walking an irresistible blues-boogie bassline, adds swinging harmonies, bursts of machine gun fire and a bassoon, and culminates in a soaring climax of righteous soul vocals. Singh still has a way of slinging around cool-sounding nonsensical phrases (“Up-blues rock is the outta town rock”) pitched somewhere between nursery rhyme and revolutionary slogan.

“‘Free Love” is a sublime, strings-laden trip into traditional Punjabi folk filtered backwards through the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, while the single “The Roll-Off Characteristics (Of History in the Making)” breezes by on a magic carpet ride of honky tonk piano, crisp guitar licks and delicious chunks of burnished trombone. As he assures us that, “War ain’t nothing but bad technical plip-plop,” Tjinder sounds more than ever like he’s singing the theme to a particularly hip children’s TV program.

“Operation Push”, a paean to the delights of dub and the era that produced it, piles on layers of echo chamber and jets of juddering sub-bass to celebrate “The last song that the world ever sung”.  After a straightforward cover of Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn” (the Manfred Mann version was apparently the first single the young Tjinder ever bought), “The Constant Springs” meanders along passably, while instrumental “Chamchu” is an agreeable dub-bhangra soundclash.  By the time we roll around to “The Turned On Truth” - 17 epic minutes of blissed-out, redemptive gospel wrapped around a riff resurrected from “Brimful of Aisha” - it feels like a cheeky, self-referential triumph, albeit far too bloody long. 

Cornershop are still holding a candle for an idealised pop moment fixed in time and space; a semi-mythic golden age, when melting-pot Britain was the musical crossroads of the world. This place has precise co-ordinates and Cornershop always know their way back there. 

To listen to Judy is to feel nostalgic, not just for the musical era it celebrates, but for that period in the 90s when Cornershop were themselves forging a new British pop vocabulary.  They’re still writing love letters to their record collections, and there are times when Judy feels a little too much like a commemorative musical photo album.

But when the irrepressible Cornershop charm kicks in, such thoughts seem churlish. Judy is as wide-eyed and upbeat as indie pop will get this year. When it sounds this fresh, Cornershop’s brand of revamped revolutionary retro is well worth a reprise.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/110585-cornershop-judy-sucks-a-lemon-for-breakfast/