Bag of Rats – Abbey Rodent

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 2/5

As an avid reader, you would have thought I would be only too aware that you should never judge a book by its cover, and the same should ideally go for music CDs as well. Still, I have to confess that the reason it took me so long to get around to listening to Bag of Rats’ Abbey Rodent is simply because of its dreadful artwork. Call me old fashioned, but I like to be able to read the titles on a record without squinting (I can’t); I like to nonchalantly toss an album cover on to the coffee table in order to impress the cat (I daren’t); last but not least, there’s my life-long aversion to the endless stream of parodies concerning the Fabs’ swansong LP cover (hmm). The music though, when I finally put my prejudices aside, is something of a revelation. I expected the tunes on Abbey Rodent to beggar the same question once again, posed originally by the late Frank Zappa, ‘does humour belong in music?’ but we are thankfully spared this. The jokes on the sleeve (Make Love Not Warfarin) and disc (Rodent Advisory Verminous Content) fortunately don’t seep into the musical content, with the possible exception of the opening line to “Hard Side of Heaven” – ‘Well I was walking with Peter Rabbit, when along came Puberty Hare’. A quick visit to either of the Bag of Rats’ websites reveals a fun bunch consisting of John Archer, Mike Hall, Mary Gilmour and Simon Hester and much of the fun and frivolity you imagine would be far more enjoyable at live gigs, to which I suspect they excel. I have to stress that there’s nothing wrong with injecting fun into music, I’m just a little wary of stretching a joke. Kicking off with the old English rebel song “Song of the Times”, the Rats start off with some basic folk rock fare, introducing Hester’s heavily echoplexed fiddle, a sound you will become very much familiar with throughout, and somewhere along the way, the song morphs into a tequila stained knees up as if Flaco Jiminez had just crashed the session. The band do have a thing for arrangement and like to include influences not normally associated with your common or garden rebel rogue folk ensemble, such as Ska for instance. I do like their take on The Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom”, which is sandwiched between “Willow Runner” and “A Shot in the Dark”, and I was positively swinging to the jazzy opening to “Hard Side of Heaven”. The Rats’ handling of traditional tunes is competent and exciting. Imagine the Velvet Underground playing “Drowsy Maggie” and there you have “Unreel” the penultimate tune on the album. The band says their sound is somewhere between the Spinners and Hawkwind and have kindly left it up to us to decide exactly where that point might be. Why am I suddenly imagining Stacia in nothing but a nice thick Aaron sweater?