To call ‘Tenderhooks’ latest album ‘Skeleton Dance’, a feelgood album of the highest order, would be an understatement. Even the opening track ‘Stardust Memories’, where frontman Markus Napier bemoans the news making him ‘feel so blue’, gets you in the mood. For anything, really. Tenderhooks are one of the most creative bands I have encountered; all of their work is original, but Markus’s interest in music spanning decades is clearly manifest in the diversity of genres represented and on a deeper level, occasional subtle influences by specific musicians will fleetingly bounce off your eardrums. Poignant references to a musician who has transcended to that rocking gig on high, against a backdrop of nostalgic beats make ‘Stardust Memories’ a great first track. When the enjoyment of a cultural experience is reliant on prior knowledge, it is enjoyed all the more … and Markus is smart enough to realise this.
But just in case all of that made you ask yourself (all over again) WHY we had to lose all that talent … ‘Cheers Cheers Cheers’, will make you want to join the cast of Riverdance. Even if you can’t dance. With its expert fiddle-playing and some rousing drumming, it ticks all the Irish jig boxes. Fast-paced lyrics with a Gaelic vibe abound and there are even background pub noises to make you feel like you’re downing a Guinness in the Emerald Isle itself.
A twangy strings intro to ‘Skeleton Dance’ promises country but delivers rock. And whilst listening to Markus’s versatile tones, I was reminded of Billy Bragg’s uniquely clear voice; definitely a similarity there. Who would have thought that a song about skeletons would be such fun? But it really is.
‘Rise and Shine’ conjures up a black tie event in a jazz club with a grand piano so shiny you could do your make-up in the reflection. Dominated by the sounds of that grand piano, this is not just feelgood, it’s ‘feelbest’.
‘Black Rain’ might be my favourite; delicate pizzicato at the start captures the subtle beginnings of what could be a biblical downfall. The piano joins in to create a crescendo and the vocals start to reveal a story, which is characteristic of Tenderhooks songs. The main protagonist of this story is a nightclub singer who – to continue the rain metaphor – provides ‘shelter’ to her clientele from their woes and worries. Attention to detail within the lyrics create superb imagery for this track and the ending, as you would expect, tails off as the ‘storm’ draws to a close.
‘Cosmic Disco’ kicks off with some synthetic cosmic sounds and references to ‘Space Invaders’, along with that archaic word ‘disco’ in the title, throws you right back to late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Fun. Just like a disco!
With a wind instrument intro reminiscent of ‘The Specials’, ‘Sandy Dunes’ might be my second favourite. Any song sporting the word ‘jalopy’ is going to make you want to pack a picnic and soak up some sun. So the song is aptly named; like a modern day version of ‘Sur la Plage’ from Sandy Wilson’s ‘The Boyfriend’. Percussion and piano dominate, reflecting the perfection and simplicity of a day at a beach.
‘Bird on Fire’ changes the vibe; a slightly Latino intro with some synthetic sounds create an atmosphere of mystery. A minor key and dramatic lyrics fuel the mystery until the story unfolds, again, with attention to detail in the words which create powerful imagery.
‘Son of a Gun’ will rescue you from any prolonged melancholy though, as it tells the story of – well, the son of a gun. Background bar noise, honky tonk keys and a drum beat reflect this snapshot of a gangster character brilliantly, complete with his ‘beautiful wife’.
Another Latino style intro for ‘Running Man’ who could be ‘Son of a Gun’s’ quieter brother. A bit of a geezer, we hear about his online dating experiences to some very speedy piano and percussion and definite shades of britpop.
‘Rule the World’ is an anthem. A motivational speech put to music, it is a reminder of our own power over our own destiny.
Penultimate track, ‘Teenage Crush’, has some fast-paced strings and an ‘80s feel … certainly one that must be relevant to everyone’s teen years!
And finally, the beautiful ‘Tumbling’ is a love story for our planet. Piano and wind instruments make it a bluesy number and its thoughtful lyrics make it a wonderfully reflective piece to round off an album stuffed with talent and diversity.
I messaged Markus Napier himself halfway through writing this to tell him I was having a blast writing this review. Go have a blast folks – get your hands and your ears on this banquet of music. Enjoy.