Although they can do no wrong for their loyal fanbase, that SHACK remain little more than a middling cult concern seems incomprehensible bearing in mind the quality of their (admittedly rather sporadic) output.
Fortunately, they have a few influential friends kicking about too, so it’s thanks to Noel Gallagher’s Sour Mash label that their eagerly-awaited sixth album (I’m including The Strands record here ‘cos it’s a Shack album in all but name) finally sees the light of day. And – predictably – the resulting “The Corner Of Miles And Gil” is yet another joy to behold.
As you may have gleaned, the album title refers to Miles Davis and his arranger Gil Evans, though – the fragrant, Traffic-style flute and the daft-but-cool indie be-bop of “Funny Things” aside – you can rest assured that this is hardly their “Bitches Brew” or suchlike. It’s simply another excellent Shack record with guitarist John Head continuing to come up and challenge his big bro’ Mick on the song-writing rails.
It’s a little simplistic, but broadly “The Corner…” sounds a tad like a cross-breed of the two previous Shack albums, the largely pastoral and gorgeous “Here’s Tom With The Weather” and the more pop-oriented and anthemic “HMS Fable.” Naturally, there’s lots of wicked Scouse humour present – notably on the Love-meets-Dexys fun of the domination-obsessed “Tie Me Down” or on “Cup Of Tea”, where Mick’s brew tastes considerably more mind-altering than he’d imagined when he poured in the milk and stirred – and the inevitable undercurrent of gentle psychedelia wafts through a number of the tunes, but overall it’s a good mixture of light-hearted and lovelorn in typical Shack fashion and contains plenty to quickly hook you in.
So, occasionally, bits of it rock a little more than you might imagine. The witty, spiked LSD-isms of “Cup Of Tea” (“I hear the milky whistlin’ across the street/ see the postie dancin’ in front of me”) switch up to a dangerous fifth gear after the choruses and the “la la la la” section can’t possibly fail live. “Black And White”, too, is the sort of forceful rocker Shack don’t do half enough. It’s brash, sprightly and features some dynamite John Head lead guitar straight outta The Byrds “Fifth Dimension” album. “Butterfly,” meanwhile, is the first of a quartet of John-penned tunes and arguably the best, bringing on the horns and hitting the harmonies dead on as they concoct a beauty along the lines of “Time Machine” from “Waterpistol.”
Naturally, there’s space for a brace of acoustic-based tunes as well. “Shelley Brown”, for example, is a typical soft-focus slice of opiated loveliness that could just have made The Strands album; John’s “New Day” is restrained and pretty and the brooding “Find A Place” is actually something of a departure, with keening strings and the kind of chilly, early hours feel that the Tindersticks made their own for many years. The one minor disappointment is Mick’s “Finn, Sophie, Bobby and Lance” which settles into a folky canter along the lines of “Daniella” but never quite sounds ghostly enough.
It’s hardly a major blimp anyway, and it’s more than redeemed by the album’s two complex set-pieces, “Miles Away” and “Closer” respectively. The former is initially quite sultry with strings and woodwind supporting, but at around the three-minute mark the whole band get hold of it as if from nowhere and it turns some sturdy rock tricks of its’ own. The first section of “Closer”, meanwhile, sounds like it’s gearing up to be another of those typical Mick postscripts a la “Happy Ever After” (complete with a reference to Siobhan and Hazy from the “Waterpistol” album) but again the band bash in for a notable last hurrah and as it winds down, it strikes you they had a new “On The Terrace” in reserve all along.
“The Corner Of Miles And Gil”, then, is another ineffably cool patch of the city for Shack to plant their flag. The hipsters, flipsters and finger-poppin’ Dad(rocker)s will all frequent, but rather more of the pop kids ought to give them a try as well. They might just learn a thing or two about how all this should be done.