REVIEW: England Is A Garden, Cornershop

Ring the bells! Unfurl the banners! Cornershop are back with their first new album in years, and it’s just what the world need right now: liquid summer pop gold about racism, imperialism and the West Midlands.

Cornershop came into my and probably your world in 1997, with that near-ubiquitous Norman Cook remix of Brimful of Asha. They reacted to the sudden fame in the only acceptable manner: they ignored it and carried on ploughing their own furrow. Who else would follow up a number one hit with a side-project album entitled Disco and the Half Way to Discontent?

The past twenty years has seen the band release a collection of glorious, eclectic, and sometimes profoundly odd albums, from 2011’s collaboration with the vocalist Bubbley Kaur (glorious) and 2002’s Handcream for a Generation (eclectic) to 2015’s Easy Listening re-recording of their own debut, Hold On It’s Easy (profoundly odd).

With England is a Garden, Cornershop meld and hone a career of musical themes and lyrical motifs to perfection. It’s like a Greatest Hits made up entirely of new songs.

The music and the politics of the 1970s hang heavy across this collection. Our album opens with “boots black, boots black” and the infectious drum clatter hook and enormous chorus of St Mary Under Canon. The fascists are on the march again, and I don’t think the white rappers are going to save us.

On No Rock Save In Roll we’re back to the heavy metal drop forges of the West Midlands, where the riffs and percussion create an atmosphere of cigarette smoke, sweat and oppression. Everywhere that Wog Army Roam is a sweet reggae sing-along about racist police brutality. And I’m A Wooden Soldier is the ghost of Marc Bolan given sweet, sweet modern voice.

For an album dealing in heavy topics and heavy riffs, England is a Garden is an upbeat pop classic. We’re carried along on a bed of flutes, melodic bass, sitars, and insistent and catchy drumming and percussion. And floating above it all is the voice of Tjinder Singh, with his by turns self-mythologising, profound, and flippant words and melodies.

It might have taken longer than they deserve, but this album should confirm Cornershop’s rightful place in rock’s pantheon.

Now we just have to convince the buggers to tour again…


RATING: ***** 5 Stars

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