"At 34 minutes, Petomane’s Top Trumps is only five minutes longer than Slayer’s deathless 80s touchstone, Reign in Blood. Named after fin de siècle French fart performer Le Pétomane, the group records on the perpetual edge of eruption, threatening to evacuate a plenitude of puns and digital synths. The cover depicts a carney’s time tunnel on a desolate urban playing field promising ‘travel in the year 2000’, and indeed there is a sense that the album has been violently expelled from the middle-distant twentieth century. A 1980s flavour to synths may currently be fashionable, but the Petomane sound is long-established. Taking the album as a whole, the sensation is not one of its having been squeezed through the many sphincters of the past to fall stale in our lap; rather the album sucks the listener up into its dark inner carnival. The setting is something like this: a disco crowd all dolled up for a gig by the Thompson Twins circa 1984 drinking gin and tonics in the plush interior of a velveteen-seated cinema which projects a mid-70s documentary on the Kursaal Flyers trying to buy a pint of milk on tour, and the late-70s Patrick McGoohan medical detective vehicle 'Rafferty'.
‘The Plumber’ lays down the dateline: Climate of Hunter, Blancmange, Peter York, the Cold War – the 1980s are inescapable; yet when the dance beat is halted by furry-hatted Cossacks they bring harmony and the ageless spirit of music rises throughout. ‘Theme from Yellow Glove’ invokes Pan in kino: his marigolds squelching in the fairy liquid, rinsing off the noise and distortion that Clone Guilt is used to and projecting the melody, not in retina-searing digital HD, but the warm tones of Super 8. Breton’s Nadja has a glove like that: I saw it under glass in Tate Modern in 2001 and even in its prophylactic case it was more tactile than the tips of Holger Czukay’s snooker-ref mitts. Unlike most pop music, Petomane’s eroticism is well out of the toilet: it has leaked out of the window and into the world – a noble influence on our nation’s children.
Too close to their creation to see its Alpine splendour, the esteem in which Petomane’s admirers hold ‘The Dark Night of David Soul’ mystifies the group. ‘You were awful in that German TV thing’ it sings as the music is layered like the overlapping episodes of a lucid dream: the dreamer unwittingly struggling to impose coherence – oh! the moribundity of rationalism. But our insane master Sleep always wins! And it wins with this album: not in its soporific qualities, but in its enclosing the listener in the warm fragrant air of the woozy aftermath of a little too much good food, good wine, the conversation taking a bewildering direction at 4am."
Clone Guilt, Jan 2010.
*Soft Watches review*
""The foul-smelling bubble of truth in the washtub of your complacency”
What kind of pop group names themselves after Le Pétomane, then, er, pebbledashes the lily by calling their debut album ‘Top Trumps’?
One not afraid to refuse to take themselves too seriously? Maybe self-deprecation’s what you need, if you wanna be a record-breaker.
Petomane, you see, sound like nothing else. They don’t even sound like themselves, as a recognised sound would require some kind of recognition. Five years in gestation, ‘Top Trumps’ surfaced briefly in late 2009 in a strictly limited edition, was heard by a few, garnered a couple of positive reviews online, then sank without trace (although rumours of a sequel spring eternal).
Main vocalist John Patrick Higgins is ‘’a writer and non-musician’’; producer Chris Kasch is ‘’a painter and non-musician’’; (in addition, sometime ‘ancillary worker’ Martin K. is a ‘’guitarist who’s never had a guitar lesson’’). Perhaps inevitably, from these inauspicious beginnings comes an idiosyncratic sound and vision. The music hovers in the hinterlands where electronica meets forgotten 70s concept-pop, with cautious nods to new wave and what the people of the past called 'futurism'. (At least, that's one side of the story; Petomane themselves have declared for 'prog-disco synth pop'.)
Meanwhile the words swap subjects and registers as often as the vocals change pitch and timbre. The result is a collaged homage to all the classic ‘S’ duos: Sparks, Suicide, Soft Cell, (Pet) Shop Boys, as conceived DIY-style in the manner of bedroom experimentalists such as early Cabaret Voltaire or Swell Maps, but updated with post-millennium tristesse and technology. The result is as unexpected as it is unexpurgated.
Act One. ‘Theme From Yellow Glove’ is all meta-noir: a film within a film, an identity crisis under the silver screen: the protagonist is ‘in the movies', but 'someone else has got my parts’. Who or what 'Yellow Glove' is, we never discover. Instead ‘The Plumber’ switches the action to the cold-war kulturkampf, where 'death is the new black'. Hipsters party in the shadow of the bomb, slogan-saturated and Weimar-keted to oblivion. The Public Enemy rumble of 'Air For Idiots' brings the story up to date, a howl of contempt at Orwellian entertainment: 'There's a camera in the corner of every house in every street; every cutie's queuing up to be indiscreet'.
Act Two. 'Catalogue You' begins with ‘'the fiction of the little black book’', the suitor 'leafing through chick-lit but thinking true crime'; in 'Summer Sneeze' collector turns predator, but he's filling one hole by digging another: 'catch yourself - when you feel it; happiness - it's always fleeting..' ‘Ancillary Workers’ unfurls the theme - the emptiness at the heart of the traditional English leisure experience, seen through a prism of adult (un)employment and childhood memories of seaside sorrow: ‘dropped an ice cream, and a seagull tore my shoe; caught the coach back, there was nothing left to do’. ‘Proudfoot’ heads in the opposite direction, escaping to sea on “an endless journey that marries to the legends of the Flying Dutchman and the Wandering Jew”: ‘I feel like I’m Van der Decker, adrift on the silver seas.. don’t feel sad for me’. 'Static Age' is ostensibly a song about nothing, text as sound-poem, but still packs a symbolic punch inside its bathetic glove: 'crushing a serpents head; beneath the tread of my puckered brogue; like mythology I've been told; my shoes are ruined though!' Like Hancock’s comedy the subtext commands: "Look at me: I am absurd. I am you".
Final Act. ‘Dead Messiahs’ faces into the abyss of long waits and false hopes, scowling at the empty sky - ‘another dead messiah, a dripping squib.. Adam returns the rib’ - before ‘The Dark Night of David Soul’ turns a dodgy pun and a chance meeting with a lapsed actor (“he gave me a look of naked, aching loss by the hot air dryer”) into an existential tour-de-force, complete with Morricone horns.
In an era when every cough and splutter of your favourite processed MOR troubadour is reissued on deluxe edition with director’s commentary, THIS is the real unheard music. Music of, in no particular order: indignation, mystery, ennui, hope, silliness, despair and beauty. One moment soaked in self-parody, the next compelling and urgent. Make no mistake, there are times when Petomane are clearly taking the piss; on ‘The Plumber, for instance, Higgins keeps a straight face while his Scott Walker-isms break out into a multi-tracked Russian chorus. But there’s no irony here: any barbs point inwards, and the pastiche is sincere: they’re full of pith and vinegar.
The final track typifies the Petomane paradox: floating in on an elegiac reverie – ‘wet rings upon the pine; my lonely soul, is counting all I’ve gained’ - ‘Pity Party’ shifts gear into funereal farce, pausing to rhyme 'coffin' with 'scoffing' and chuck in a Jewish joke, before sailing off into the sepulchral sunset, the prettiest of melodies complimented by a reading from Henry Scott Holland's 'Death is nothing at all': ''I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well."
Love, loss and LOLS, all in one. Petomane don't know whether to laugh or cry, so of course, they do both. Join them, and reckon those emotions."
Soft Watches, 2010
released December 25, 2009
Words: JP Higgins; Music: C Kasch; Additional guitar: Martin K