Review - Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band, Adiós Señor Pussycat
Since a self-imposed hiatus after cult band Shack’s last album in 2006, Michael Head has been working on The Red Elastic Band - a fluid concept of ever-rotating musicians to provide a flexible platform for the range of his new live and recorded performances. The cumulation of this hard work, Adiós Señor Pussycat, his first album of new material in over 11 years, is up there with his best. Recorded in Liverpool between March 2016 and June 2017, Head’s return is beyond expectations, the back story intriguing as ever.
After a couple of Red Elastic Band false starts, and an abandoned stab at his first post-Shack album, Mick stepped up alone onto stage to do a daytime charity gig at Liverpool’s dry bar The Brink. Christmas 2011 and the crowd’s expectations were high, packed in buzzing, but the reaction shocked silence. Several stone heavier, and smashed on booze, Mick had clearly fallen off the wagon in a disturbing way. He shambled through a few songs, then called his Shack bandmates out of the audience to get him out of a corner. Drummer Iain took over the lead vocals “I Know You Well”. We know Mick well, we want the him to deliver the happy ever after moment. But Mick stumbled backwards towards the audience, tripped over the monitors. The fall in slow-motion. Mick landed heavily on his head from a height. Blood trickled from his ear. No initial movement. As family and friends gathered around him, the supporters exited into sharp December sunshine. Red liquid pooling around Mick on the floor.
With this context, the brightness, positivity, and joy emanating from the new long player is all the more remarkable. What a return. Picasso, the opening track on Adiós Señor Pussycat sees Michael Head strolling through his hometown with The Red Elastic Band, cutting through Lodge Lane, past St Luke’s Church, he’s heading home. The singer is confident, lucid and alive with possibilities, he’s following his muse but “it's not like the movies, there may be police involved”. He dreams of Paris his second home. It’s Love, it’s the Strands, it’s Coltrane, it’s magical and only Michael Head comes back like this. Don’t let it be said he’s an underachiever. He always delivers the songs, the best songs.
Back from the brink, winter turns to spring and Head practices, plays an oldie Undecided, he follows it with a brand new classic it's untitled. Angoing run of gigs in off-the-beaten-track venues, an EP and a single release. A bigger project is announced and Adiós Señor Pussycat’s beautiful moments take shape in Steve Powell’s Ark Recording Studios.
Released Friday 20 October 2017 on red vinyl, tracks including 4&4 Still Makes 8 reveal Adios to have an intimate and soulful core, drawing on the musical pallet established on his classic album, The Magical World Of The Strands. What's The Difference packs in strings, a choir, brass and several changes of pace before it leaves us. Across the record the extended band bring us piano, cello, violin, viola, trumpets, and saxophone; but for Overjoyed, Working Family and the cover Wild Mountain Thyme it’s a trad four piece rock band, featuring bright electric guitars - bass and drums confident - the backing band tight and complementary throughout.
As Michael Head wishes us farewell with the optimistic beat group stomp of Adios Amigo one of only two songs debuted on this vinyl rather than a gig (the other being Picasso), the possibilities are endless. The best set of songs of his career are up his sleeve for the NEXT album, the decision to bench songs like American Kid, Santa Fe and Watched The News In Black and White justified by the strength in depth of Adiós Señor Pussycat. 9/10
Listen exclusively below to non album track American Kid, recorded live at London Assembly Hall.
Image - John Johnson.