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Broadly speaking, those that are aware of Cornershop fall into two groups. Group one bopped along to the remixed ‘Brimful Of Asha’, but have been unaware of subsequent, less omnipresent releases. This has helped consign the band to the one-hit wonder bin of their minds. They see them there, scrabbling around with the Babylon Zoos and the Soniques on a motorway service station just outside the M25. Group two bought When I Was Born for the 7th Time, were intrigued by the depth and variety of the group’s sound and subsequently kept an eye on the band’s evolution and varying stylistic guises that followed. They’re probably also aware that Fatboy’s real name is Quentin rather than Norman Cook, and that he was in The Housemartins.
Any Group one fans that picked up When I Was Born for the 7th Time would understandably have been perplexed; the album that spawned their biggest hit has been by far their most esoteric release to date. It’s sad to say that those same fans would no doubt be enraptured by the likes of ‘Funky Days’, ‘Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III’ or the brilliantly titled ‘Who Fingered Rock ‘n’ Roll’, but it’s more than likely that the tracks failed to register on their collective radar.
The one exception of this in recent years has been ‘Topknot’, a collaboration between Tjinder Singh, Ben Ayres and guest vocalist Bubbley Kaur. The record was an infectious and joyous amalgamation of Punjabi folk, looped guitars and Kaur’s deliciously mellifluent vocals (delivered in her native tongue), held together by Cornershop’s familiar production. An inclusion on many of the tracks of the year lists of 2004, the relationship has, unbeknownst to most, continued as a labour of love; over the intervening years additional material has been worked on, the result of which is the typically idiosyncratically titled Cornershop & The Double ‘O’ Groove Of, a ten track album that includes ‘Topknot’ and its bedfellow ‘Natch’.
A clear departure from the rockier stylings of Handcream For A Generation and Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast, The Double ‘O’ Groove Of picks up where ‘Topknot’ left off, mixing in a healthy dose of the funkier and eccentric sides of Cornershop’s previous offerings alongside vocals sung entirely in Punjabi. A warmly produced bass is ever-present and high in the mix, a useful counterpart to Kaur’s harmonious tones that float and intertwine insouciantly with the changing styles and eccentricities of the music. The consistency of her delivery does at times leave one hoping for a variation in temperament, although it’s hard to get too specific about this without a translation of the lyrics.
From opener and current single ‘United Provinces Of India’ the album’s ability and intention to entertain is made clear, with cascading saxophones and heavy, rolling sampled beats, set against a syncopated Punjabi sitar riff and Kaur’s instantly familiar vocal. It’s a highlight along with the rollicking jazz piano-driven ‘Biro Pen’, a tune that ranks amongst Cornershop’s best and is as bright and infectious as anything you’re likely to hear this year. On occasion there is a sense of an overflow of ideas crammed into one song, although this is arguably part of the music’s charm; ramshackle playfulness has long been Cornershop’s signature. The only real gripe is the re-inclusion of ‘Natch’, which struggles to hold its own.
Cornershop’s 20 year career has seen them take a winding path that has crossed the genres of Britpop, country, dance and Punjabi folk, crafting an experimental sound that is at once idiosyncratic and capricious but also clearly theirs. Whether this latest release is merely another development or a sign of things to come, it is their most beguiling collection of songs for a number of years, a labour of love, and a record that that deserves more exposure than it’s probably going to get. Maybe someone should give Quentin a call.
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