What better way to count down into a review of Cornershop’s long awaited collaborative album with Punjabi songbird Bubbley Kaur than using the title of a 1968 duet sung by Asha Bhosle and Mahendra Kapoor — “One, Two, Three, Baby”.
It was Fatboy Slim’s remix of Tjinder Singh’s tribute to the famous Bollywood singer, “Brimful of Asha”, which garnered this Midlands group worldwide exposure back in 1998 and gave them a bona fide number one hit in the British charts. But like everything Cornershop does, even that seemingly simple dance tune with its catchy lyric “Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow” was more than the sum of its substantial parts. “It’s a very political song and tries to express the anger a lot of people felt about how they were portrayed in Indian cinema and the issue of the Marda Dam,” explained Singh in a 2005 interview. This is the band, after all, who took to burning pictures of Morrissey at their gigs and press conferences and outside his label’s offices after the singer appropriated skinhead imagery.
Since those heady days, Cornershop has been relatively quiet, in and out of the studio. The band’s permanent line-up has shrunk down to the two co-founders, Singh (singer/songwriter, dholki and guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Ben Ayers, and the group has released three albums under its own name in the last 14 years — When I Was Born for the 7th Time in 1997, Handcream for a Generation in 2002, and the intoxicating, sitar-driven, ’60s-meets-glam-pop boogier Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast in 2009 — along with one LP from their side project Clinton.
In fact, Cornershop & the Double ‘O’ Groove Of has been in the cards ever since one-time Preston laundrette worker and songstress Bubbley Kaur collaborated on the group’s double A-side single “Topknot” / “Natch” (both tracks are included here) back in 2004. They just had to get the money together. This they managed to do with the help of their fans through pre-orders via PledgeMusic.
Released on the band’s own label, Ample Play, and sung entirely in Punjabi by the pitch-perfect Kaur, Double ‘O’ Groove Of is worth the wait and then some. Cornershop has always been adventurous in the extreme when it comes to incorporating Punjabi folk and traditional Asian instrumentation like the dholki and tamboura with Western influences such as post-punk, deep-funk, hip-hop and synthetic dance beats. Yet over these 10 tracks the group has finally nailed music that has the organic feel of a sound that’s always been, rather than the exotic hybrid it is. This is definitely not “world music” but very possibly “out of this world music”.
Opening track “United Provinces of India” is hypnotic Punjabi folk with the repetitive lyrics of the form melded to a trance-like funky bass line and stereo phasing. This is followed by the excellent, simmering slow groove of “Topknot” and “The 911 Curry”, which sounds like the theme tune to a Punjabi TV cop show. Elsewhere, ’70s deep funk merges with dramatic post-punk throbbing bass and skanking brass on “Supercomputed” and “Double Decker Eyelashes”. The latter also brings to mind Halfman Halfbiscuit in places, as Kaur’s sweet, ethereal vocals flourish over the reverberating synth beats. And on it goes until the beautiful, Punjabi-spiced, Laurel Canyon acoustic folk-flavoured “Don’t Shake It” draws things to a gentle close.
It may be a bit early in the year to start “Best of” lists. Nevertheless, Cornershop & the Double ‘O’ Groove Of is going to very difficult to knock out of this reviewer’s top ten of 2011. Bloody brilliant!