Table for One
or a brief moment, Hefner were the biggest little band in the UK (somewhere in between the reign of Gorky’s and Raging Speedhorn (remember them?)). It's a position that carries a lot of responsibility: dedicated fanbase, permanent state of alert in case a Peel session needs recording, a hint of mainstream recognition, a chronic inability to score a top 40 single (“Alan Bean” missed out on securing them their rightful place on TOTP by a few hundred sales), and the patronage of Steve Lamacq (ask your grandparents). Wanna know how big Hefner were for a minute? Melody Maker's The Phantom Menace review spent a few hundred words on a laboured gag about how Jar Jar Binks and frontman Darren Hayman had similar posture. If that's not celebrity, I dunno what is.
But Hefner were kind of great. Proper Indie for Proper Indie Fans: music for those who flaunted their cardigans with pride and always had ten books on their library card. And our boy Daz was the perfect indie musician: keenly observed pen portraits, lyrical bon mots for days, a gimmick (Christianity), and a whole heap of sexual angst. And now he's returned to his flock with this, the first solo album proper—his best work since he helped drop The Fidelity Wars on us.
Daz really only writes one kind of song: beautifully observed lyrical tableaux about small town losers with a tale to tell. There's the mother and her virgin son wasting their lives away on Babycham and bingo in “Caravan Song.” There's the brogue wearing, union supporting, upstanding English head in, yes, “English Head.” There's the nervy try-too-hard wallflower trying to come out of her shell (“She had hair that said ‘Please like me’/ Shoes that said ‘Please like me’”) on “That's Not What She's Like.” And then there's the douchebag clapped out American rock “star” in “Doug Yule's Velvet Underground.” These people all get their moment in a spotlight shone down from Hayman, and all tales are told over keyboards, steel guitar, and a bunch of other vaguely spacey sounding shit. But more importantly they all get their stories told with honesty, incisiveness, and oh so much heart. Hayman's a bit like God, in the sense that you get the feeling he truly loves all His creations.
The album is at its best with “The Protons and the Neutrons.” It’s the closing credits for a student film that'll never be made, half sounding like an update of “And She Was”’s amoral tale of perving on girls undergoing intense drug experiences, half being the great lost lead single from Dear Catastrophe Waitress, as “Plucky little Christine” undergoes some sort of epiphany somewhere. Details are lost in synth lines and Hayman’s too busy perfecting the disinterested indie voice in a mere 3:51 to help out.
It's an album with a ridiculously small scope, an even smaller scale, and no pretensions to entertain anyone other than the people who would already buy a Darren Hayman album. But from such small canvasses, he's created a masterpiece. Like those dudes who carve the Lord's Prayer onto a nickel. And, if you go to his MySpace, you'll see he's befriended Ainslie from Fame Academy. How's that for connections?
Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2006-08-04