Dublin five-piece The Eskies have a rather individual remit. They’re one of the few bands that’d be equally at home playing to a fosters-swilling festival crowd in high summer, or the debauched boards of the Moulin Rouge in pre-war absinthe-dizzy Paris. Why? Because their music is the music of revelry, and revelry is never out of fashion. Marked by theatrical vocals, sleazy brass, and guitar lines like Django Reinhardt huffing petrol, theirs is music that makes you want to swing from chandeliers. Their first album ‘After the Sherry Went Round’ went round as well as, well, a bottle of fine sherry. Now two years later, The Eskies are back with second release, the rowdier, wilder and weirder ‘And Don’t Spare The Horses’.
On the surface, at least, it’s booming business as usual for The Eskies. Much like it’d predecessor, ‘Don’t Spare’ is a spurs-in-the-flanks tempest of neo-gypsy polkas and deliciously dismal cabarets. Vocalist Ian Bermingham is as theatrical as ever, one part utter commitment and one part chasing down the Baudelaire Orphans. Sean O’Reilly’s guitar lines are as scampering as ever, fencing with Rob Murphy’s mandolin, whilst the backing vocals rise like a halyard crew on a galleon. All ship-shape and Dublin fashion.
But look a little closer, and you’ll spy devils in the detail. Where ‘After the Sherry’ was a labour of many years, ‘Don’t Spare’ came about much faster, and has a much more united feel to it than its brother. For one, the word of the brass section, Lord Henry’s Little Big Band, is far more prominent. The album opens with lead single ‘All Good Men’, which offers a mere few seconds of guitar flourish before a blast of hedonistic horns snatches the reins and leads the way. ‘I’d Rather Be Lonely’ too takes cues from striptease jazz and has some of the sassiest brasswork you’re likely to find.
The Eskies have pushed the boat out with songwriting too. ‘Don’t Spare’ sees the infamously energetic group try their hand at some slow-dances. The dirgelike ‘Death to the Sentry’ lets Bermingham go full balladeer, and shows there’s more to the backing vocals than gusto alone. ‘Building Up Walls’ meanwhile plays about as straight-faced as the band have ever dared, with a galloping beat, sunrise horns and lyrics dwelling on the disintegration of a relationship. Using medieval siege imagery. This is The Eskies, after all.
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But with all this success in branching out, The Eskies are still at their strongest in their full-blown booze-up-in-the-bordello mode. The album’s flagship anthem is the rousing ‘The Man Who Ran’, a tankard-slamming stumbler with a nonsense singalong chorus tailor-crafted for folk who’ve been drinking since the sun came up. ‘Napoleon’, a proto-punk song two-hundred years out of date scurries along at blistering speed, whilst ‘I’m Not Sorry’ has all the shuffle and sleaze of a track from some penny dreadful revue. They may be making forays outside their comfort zone, but it’s still these devil’s own jigs, built for the sole purpose of energising live shows, that are The Eskies’ forte.
Simply put, ‘And Don’t Spare The Horses’ is exactly what you’d expect, and want, from The Eskies. A loyal follow-up to the stylings of their first album, with a few well-placed experiments and some extra brass for added aplomb. A host of tracks that are sure to fire up any crowd (be they festival goers or Sharpe’s Chosen Men) will serve them well in the live shows to come, whilst the infectious nature of their song writing means you’ll be humming the melodies long into the night. If that album is missing anything, it’s merely a well-placed cover of Les Miserables’ ‘Master of the House’. Just to hammer the nail home.