There is no band on Earth or elsewhere like Half Man Half Biscuit, the deadpan satirists of small-town life from the Wirral — that unassuming New Jersey over the water from Liverpool’s pulsating Manhattan. Originally lumped in with the indie-pop bands of NME’s C86 micro-scene (Stump, Bogshed, Close Lobsters etc.), they outlasted them all and in the early 2000s revealed a hitherto unsuspected facility with traditional English song. As prime mover Nigel Blackwell’s lyrical attention moved from daytime TV and lower-league footballers toward the new middle classes and village life, his worldview has darkened like a quality whiskey. Today HMHB are closer in spirit to playwright Alan Bennett, filmmaker Mike Leigh or English satirist Chris Morris than to any other rock band. By some distance, they’re the funniest entity in recorded music.
90 Bisodol (Crimond), their 11th album, steps away from the Drivetime FM-rock tunefulness of 2008 CSI: Ambleside and digs into a post-Pixies, middle-aged Joy Division thrash. The strikingly ferocious music makes many a younger band sound ingratiating, but as always, the words are the main event. 90 Bisodol combines gentle absurdity with spot-on jeremiads against sundry contemporary horrors: self-regarding rock bands, TV home-improvement pundits, showy weddings, overcomplicated municipal-refuse schedules and the mad, rude and boring people who make every town a tiny hell. Those paying close attention will be rewarded with gag buried under gag as if in some rich comic impasto. In the limpid necrophilia ballad “Excavating Rita” our hero employs a carbon monoxide detector in his search for love beneath a graveyard. Is the music subtly echoing The Hollies “The Air That I Breathe”? It is.
“Bisodol”‘s crowning glory is a blast of scorn against posturing, laddish, “footy”-loving celebrities entitled “Rock And Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools” — wools, or woolybacks, being Liverpool slang for clueless provincials and try-hards who are fated to remain forever in the wrong. It’s insular, yes, but the effort needed to appreciate Nigel’s arcane references is always worth it. The album title, for instance refers to a) the vast quantities of over-the-counter antacid medicines required to stomach modern life, and b) the Scottish Presbyterian hymn commonly known as “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” That’s Bisodol in a nutshell: the nearest modern Britain has to folk music.