The preposterous story of I, Ludicrous starts in 1986, when they emerged as a duo to the delight of the likes of John Peel and Mark E Smith. They were hand picked as a support act by The Fall in 1986 and again in 2008, and by Fat White Family in 2016. I, Ludicrous add musical craft to a satirist’s eye for the absurdities of modern life.
‘Songs From The Sides Of Lorries’, their seventh studio album, starts with a recording from the Fat White Family gig at London’s Coronet on 9 March last year, reviewed at the time by GIGsoup. MC Patrick Lyons announces them: “But tonight we are going to light this place on fire. Crawling out of the deepest, darkest depths of Croydon, we have I, Ludicrous”. The group are renowned for their wry lyrics and sarky comedy observations, but the joke here is that the opening track from the gig is replaced on the album by the wordless ‘Because They Are Ludicrous’, sounding like an art-punk instrumental by The Monochrome Set, with scratchy, busy guitar from John Procter and a choral “ahhahh” chant. It’s anchored by the bouncing bass of Martin Brett, originally from indie-popsters Voice of The Beehive, who joined I, Ludicrous in 2008.
The inspired lyrics of Will Hung (aka David Rippingale) take over from Procter’s untamed guitar on the next track, ‘A Very Important Meeting’. Everyone who works for a living will appreciate the song’s narrative: “My manager said it was a very important meeting… It was a very important, a most important meeting.” The protagonist is less than impressed: “But to tell you the truth all I can recall is fleeting… notes were given out but I left mine in the building.”
Laugh-out-loud moments come when the backing vocals squeak “very important meeting”, as if The Inbetweeners have walked in, and when our hungover hero reveals the ultimate irony: “It’s a stupid job, I hate the boss, I’m leaving. Still, it was a very important, a very important meeting.”
Stories of everyday people’s existence are at the core of the I, Ludicrous proletarian universe: “Working in a warehouse for a living wage, fighting off my demons, living day to day” as Hung says in ‘It’ll All Be Over Soon’ — where Mark E Smith meets Oi! in a rowdy song that dissects the tragicomic decline of a working man: “I must cut down my drinking, I’m through with drugs and women, my ambition’s slowly dwindling, I wanna be home with Shelly, with my feet up watching telly.” ‘Today’s Man’ is a monologue about addiction (booze, pills, internet porn) over buzzing bass and guitar.
The words are delivered against an increasingly sophisticated musical palette. Each of the album’s 10 tracks has a distinctive sound — from arty post punk, to gentle strumming, to DIY garage power pop. ‘I Wanna Give You A Scare’ is all punk tropes and key changes, and a barely disguised tribute to The Damned as the lyrics go “neat neat neat”. ‘Roger Dismal’ ends with a punky punch — a postscript to the antihero’s sad, mithering letters. ‘Cars ’n’ Bars’ gets into a slowed-down rockabilly groove and sticks to it like a leech.
The centrepiece of this great little album is ‘It’s All Free’, a rolling, relentless, churning attack that splices The Fall and screeching guitars with wild Fat With Family-style keyboards — the latter get a name check in the lyrics too.
The final three songs use poetry aligned with music to highlight pathos, dealing with dwindling ambition, loneliness and death. Sadness in the spoken words, spare bass and acoustic guitar of ‘Paul’ contrasts with light-hearted melodic backing vocals. The bathos of album closer ‘Obituary’ features synths like a choir coming in over piano. It’s a troubling end to a singularly intelligent and maverick album.
‘Songs From The Sides Of Lorries’ is out now via Cherry Red
01 ‘Because They Are Ludicrous’
02 ‘A Very Important Meeting’
03 ‘I Wanna Give You A Scare’
04 ‘Today’s Man’
05 ‘It’s All Free’
06 ‘Roger Dismal’
07 ‘Cars ’n’ Bars’
08 ‘It’ll All Be Over Soon’