In the liner notes of their new, self-titled album (Bloodshot Records) The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir include a dedication to Dave Eggers and Harvey Pekar. So then, it should come as no surprise that this motley musical collective (led by the one-named Elia) delivers nine tracks of sincere, but occasionally unpleasant, honesty.
Take the album opener, “Aspidistra,” for instance. The fun, jangly guitars of the intro provide no preparation for the tale of drug-use and aimlessness that follows. “Hanging out with whoever/at least the kids that got nowhere to go/if you've got it to share, they won't say no” — hardly a typical suburban youth's complaint of isolation. This insistence on confronting uncomfortable truths is apparent throughout the record. “In Hospital,” a quiet lament about watching a loved one die and then dealing with the aftermath, is heartbreaking in its simplicity. The lyrics echo the way small, mundane things suddenly come to the forefront in the face of a larger, traumatic event; the narrator remembers the green and white sweater she wears “as you go downhill fast” and then, four years later, how she still chokes up when she sees families on tv. A few tracks later comes the shuffly sing-a-long of “Then And Not A Moment Before,” which will force you to consider the question, “If I can't help dancing around my room to a song about a morally-bankrupt cad who lets his children starve, does that make me a bad person?”
For some slightly less guilt-inducing fun, I'd suggest track six, “I Never Thought I Could Feel This.” It's a sweet ode to an unexpected object of affection, complete with hand-claps and a Botticelli reference. Sure it ends with the bittersweet “I just want to be loved by everyone at the end of the day/Now is that so wrong?” but compared to, say, “There are nails in my body/there's blood on my lips/my obsessions crack the whip” (“Obsessions”) it's about as close as the album ever gets to light-hearted.
As surprising as the contrast between the subject matter and the tone of the first track may strike the listener, it is on the final one that TSYGC pulls off something really lovely. What starts as a chronicle of a boy's sad life — his mother dies young, he gets kicked and beaten for being different — turns into a sort of benediction. Sung over what sounds like a particularly soulful organ, the last line, “I hope that one day you'll call to tell me/You're no longer alone in this crowded city/That in the quiet you'll think Lord it's a pity/you can't give everyone the peace you've found,” is almost anthemic.
Perhaps then, what The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir have really done is make a record about life. It's ugly and uncomfortable; it will make you mad and sad. In the end though, something's gotta be said for having a little hope. - Claire Orpeza