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Big Special

Review: Big Special – Postindustrial Hometown Blues

On occasion there comes an album that speaks to the times, resembles the present moment and captures the emotions of a generation. ‘Post Industrial Hometown Blues’ does exactly that, it gives the words to describe the shared malaise, the perils of precarity, daily drudgery and pharmacological escapism. Yet, Big Special are different, they have peered into the soul of the nation by being honest with themselves. Questioning, “Why do sad people lie?” epitomises this honesty – for Big Special know there cannot be resolution, or connection without opening the coffers where we store our hearts and share what we know; over-sharing becomes a pathology of the past, now we must know each other wholly. Offering consolation for your woes, atonement through burying our desire for negative solidarity and instead provide visibility to experiences of hope; an ‘I see you; I understand you’ to guide many through our purportedly ‘post’-age.

Reuniting musically after a decade, Big Special have earned a range of support ahead of their debut album, ‘Post Industrial Hometown Blues’ out today (May 10th) on SO Recordings. Comprised of Joe Hicklin (singer) and Callum Moloney (drums), the duo have stormed the breaches of the British music scene with their diverse musical offerings. The theme of duality appears to be encoded into the architecture of band. Whether reflecting on: past and present, joy and sorrow, hope and loss, isolation and contact, depression and euphoria; nothing is given supremacy it is all relational. It is hard at times to comprehend how a pair could create with such versatility and still have a coherent collection of songs. Ranging from trip-hop infused ‘I Mock Joggers’ with its ironic self-depreciating nature to the psychedelia-induced witty bounce of ‘Trees’, to the synth-opera breakout of ‘Broadcast: Time Away’. If ‘hanging on in quiet desperation’ (Time – Pink Floyd) was once the English Way, Big Special renounce going out without kicking and screaming first. We may still be desperately dishevelled going through depressive days but it does not need to be alone; this generation can end it… together.

Central to ‘Post Industrial Hometown Blues’ is the cycles of depression, from the personal to the generational. The opening song, ‘Black Country Gothic’ with its gothic imagery of post-industrial praying showcases Big Special quite literally have the Blues. Even in the depths of depression when that Black Dog shadows, there is a passionate optimism that presents itself, the White Horse. Even when ‘This year’s been a belter’ as Joe swoons in ‘Shithouse’, the melancholic mind can remain; here reminded of Milton’s Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and it itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”. This honesty is important to Big Special, giving a voice to mental malaise enables a sharing through which collective communion can occur. It is refreshing to find artists who openly indulge in the truth, regardless of the force or subject matter approached. In ‘This Here Ain’t Water’, the drums emulate the daily monotony, the cycle of drudgery and the never-ending graft, the lyrics – “Has anything ever changed? Ever, at all?” – stand out, echoing the sentiment of capitalist realism for a generation who have never known anything else. It can be difficult to see beyond the horizon, to tomorrow; but the intensity of their music will tempt you to find out.

Big Special are on a mental health crusade, their experiences are that of a generation, the offspring of neoliberalism and austerity, the generation of lack and abundance. Lacking in security, the lack of “bricks and mortar, in the song ‘Dust Off/Start Again’ which aggressively bounces like a worker shadowboxing, preparing for a fight with the Establishment. Yet, with the abundance of prescription fantasises that mute our sensibilities, just so long as we don’t die before work on Monday morning. Again, echoed in the exhausted vulnerability of ‘My Shape (Blocking the Light)’, pleading not to return to merely being a number in the system. A corrupt system that whilst, some went “A whole year without work” only to return post-pandemic to an increasingly precarious position; cronyism made millions for the Conservative chumocracy. However, Big Special acknowledge it need not always be this way, with their dynamic music and sheer determination. You can overcome the confines of the past, and create the future, you can, “be a Star”, as in the spoken-word chorus of ‘Broadcast: Time Away’; or the strange labourer in the techno-punk of ‘Butcher’s Bin’.

Joe, the Bard of the Black-Country breathes poetry. ‘For the Birds’ encapsulates the spirit of 20th Century War Poetry, “We were supposed to be young, half cut and completely severed” is reminiscent of the potent words of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen who are surely rapturously applauding this ode to a lost youth. Similarly, the intense spoken-word delivery of ‘Mongrel’ speaks to the mental health crisis, those young who could have helped, organised the future, been “psychiatric saviour(s)” if they “didn’t go mental”. And yet again, optimism occurs with the finale – ‘DiG!’. Big Special, the dynamic duo creates the sonic velocity of the entire E Street Band. A reminder to keep going, to break free, create new lines of flight, to “dig on down”. Engaging in everything about our culture, in all its beauty and desperation in their precise personalised way. ‘Post Industrial Hometown Blues’ is precious.

Words by Teddy Maloney

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