“No Country for Old Men” – IR

3 stars (out of 5)

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No Country for Old MenNow here’s an interesting one.  International Rescue, or IR, hit their peak in the post-punk early 80s in East Yorkshire with lots of Peel plays, a prospective Polydor deal and a substantial live following in the north-east of England.  Then the deal fell through and, after releasing a couple of singles, guitarist Stephen Skinner left to work with Orange Juice then Edwyn Collins as a solo artist for 15 years and the band went the way of most small bands, slowly grinding to a halt.  Which is where the story usually ends, but this one has a bit of a twist in the tail.

In 2011, Stephen Skinner (vocals/guitar), David Waller (guitar) and Chaz Cook (bass) decided to reform the band.  Spec (the original drummer) couldn’t make it but Joel Cash was recruited in his place and the band played a triumphant hometown return gig.  One thing led to another, songs were written and “No Country for Old Men” was recorded for the band’s own Cowboy City Records label.

The album opens with the gentle country feel of the pleasant but unremarkable “If I’m Going Down” and eases through the jangly riffs of “Don’t Ever Change” and “I Don’t Know What it is, But I Like it a Lot”(which sounds heavily inspired by the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville”).  The album finally grabs the attention with “He’s the Man” which shows some lyrical invention, although I’m not sure about “the man who put the nonce in nonsense” and “It’s my Parade” which is a 60s girl group pastiche leaning heavily on the Lesley Gore (or Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin) classic “It’s my Party”.  “It’s All Tongue in Cheek” is a twisted love song in the style of “My Funny Valentine”, while the idea of “Let’s Rip it Up” seems to be to use as many lyrical clichés as possible in one song, which also applies to “Love Train” to a certain extent.

Three of the last four songs on the album have a more personal feel and, for me, work much better than some of the earlier academic exercises in songwriting.  “The Beast of Love” deals with the experience of being struck by love, passion, lust or all three, while “Cowboy City” seems to be about the reformation of the band and “The Old River Bed” seems to look back nostalgically to a happier, more innocent time.

Overall, the album has a very 60s/70s feel which is accentuated by the backing vocals (credited to Laura and Maisie) which could have been taken straight from the Shangri-Las.  The lead vocal (imagine David Gedge meets Paul Heaton) is a little fragile and sometimes a little strained at the higher end of the range but generally works well within the framework of the songs.  For me, there were hints of some of the classic Peel bands here (Half Man, Half Biscuit or Sultans of Ping) with a twist of pop and country.

The album works best when the songs are about personal issues; some of the remainder sound a little contrived by comparison but it’s still a very listenable album.  What I admire most is that the members of IR are doing this because they love it and they want to do it.  There’s no megabucks reunion tour on offer or the chance of a lucrative greatest hits re-package, just the chance to get the new songs out to old, and hopefully new, fans and probably play a few gigs.  For that, I completely respect them.

Out Monday June 17 on Cowboy City Records (CBOYC020812).