NOTHING PIQUES A journalist’s ghoulish interest quite like the prospect of an album written in the wake of a breakdown. R&B kingpin Big Boy Bloater has always dabbled in the dark side: his last studio release, 2012’s The World Explained, was full of darkly comic tales about shit relationships and provincial strippers. Given that Luxury Hobo was recorded shortly after his emergence from a period of depression and borderline catatonia, we’re naturally braced for a truly jet-black tone to this Mascot debut.
Is Luxury Hobo Bloater’s ‘breakdown album’, then? Certainly there are hints at a troubled headspace. Perhaps most overt is the scuttling, itchy, downright creepy I Got The Feeling Someone’s Watching Me, whose funeral bells, handclaps and furball refrain of ‘I ain’t crazy, don’t commit me’ will have the listener checking over their shoulder for CIA spooks. At the other sonic extreme, Luxury Hobo Blues is a rattling, good-time blues basher, so jaunty you almost don’t notice lines like ‘Every day, I got to medicate my brain’.
There’s darkness, then, but the overall sense is of a light at the end of the tunnel; of a man defanging the monkey on his back using humour and fuck-off loud guitars. Musically, while Luxury Hobo has an aftertaste of blues influences like Howlin’ Wolf – check out the vocal tics on I Love You (But I Can’t Stand Your Friends) – this album is less 50s tremolo twang, more classic rock. From the slammed fuzzbox chord that opens the runaway fairground ride of Devils Not Angels to the stompy monster-mash of It Came Out Of The Swamp, Bloater has rarely sounded meatier.
Nor has he ever been wittier. By now you’ll probably have heard lead-off single Robot Girlfriend, and it’s a highlight of the new set, with Bloater’s jabby riffing decorating a dystopian tale about a couch-potato whose servile sex droid goes haywire (‘She put her robot fist through his stupid human face’). Not Cool Man prompts more sniggers, with the singer observing a lecherous, cologne-soaked Lothario over a squelchy funk rhythm (‘He’s a nose-picker, a mouth-breather…’).
With its juxtaposition of music and lyrical sentiment, the breezy soul of All Things Considered will resonate with anyone who’s refused to back down in a standoff with a spouse (‘Stuck in your ass, you’ve been like that so long/All things considered, I still think you’re wrong’). The aforementioned I Love You…, meanwhile, begs a partner to stop associating with ‘that hard-faced bitch with the motor mouth’ who ‘really thinks a lot of herself’. At a time when most blues lyric sheets are vague platitudes, it’s raw, refreshing stuff.
Luxury Hobo is too short: we’ve waited four years for these nine tracks. But if we’re talking quality, then Bloater has played a blinder, distilling his caustic world view to its toxic essence, setting it to some bonkers and often brilliant music, and giving Mascot an album to shove down the throat of mainland Europe. An album born of bad times, no doubt – but the Boy done good.