‘Markus and the Tenderhooks’ are a tangible representation of shifting dynamics in music. Just when you think you’ve identified their genre as ‘jazz meets ska meets Britpop’, they open their latest album, ‘North Star’, with a song title that is clearly classical. The magical ‘Prelude in Blue’, gives us Markus Napier’s rich tones narrating a snippet of a story against a backdrop of delightful piano sounds. Occasional phrases reminiscent of familiar classical pieces give an Oriental feel, adding to the mystery, especially with the spoken references to jazz clubs on Broadway.
A leaning towards country vibes brings us the second track, ‘Mother Dear’, which manages to impart a child’s tenderness towards his mother without the schmaltz.
Drawing you in with some stirring drum beats, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for a rousing anthem, in the opening seconds of third track ‘Yolena’. But in true Tenderhooks style, the rug is pulled out from under you as frontman Markus Napier whisks you back to the ‘80s with a slick Britpop-esque commentary. With the afore-mentioned drumbeats and some pretty string sounds, this is a very musical song, despite the whole story being presented via the spoken word; the whole story being the lowdown on the intriguing and enigmatic Yolena. The latter is the narrator’s neighbour and the object of his affection in a remote, adoring manner and indeed, the catchy chorus is a chant of her name with the fun sounds of a tambourine in the background. With his slightly obtuse, yet very entertaining flair for writing clearly evident throughout the song, Napier has every art form – music, writing, acting – covered in just a few minutes and with its clean, abrupt finish, displays an easy flawlessness.
Definite shades of Billy Bragg are evident in the next track on this musical feast: ‘Little Stunner’, only to be followed by the more reflective ‘Sleep Tight’, which, as its name suggests, has qualities of a lullaby – but on the outside, as you’ll find a more upbeat element in the middle.
The second half of the album kicks off with the rock’n’roll ‘Russell You Up’, before sliding into the easy reggae beats of the aptly-named ‘Ease Yourself’.
Markus’s trademark saxophone – one of my favourite sounds of this band – makes an appearance in ‘Rubber Necking’ before the penultimate rock track ‘Cry Cry Cry’.
The final track – the album’s namesake – ‘North Star’, seems to be a revelation of the first track, ‘Prelude in Blue’, which is clearly a teaser. With keys, strings and wind, there is nothing short of a full orchestra supporting this enchanting number whose lyrics reveal more to the story of which we only receive hints at the start of the album. If ‘Prelude in Blue’ is pretty, ‘North Star’ is stunning; with minor keys building up to a crescendo of harmony, it is a fitting way to round off an album packed with a dynamic variety of musical genres.
‘North Star’ is currently available from Resident Brighton.