Here’s a record you should buy

Album review: A Million Ukeleles by MJ Hibbet

MJ Hibbett keeps giving me things – CDs, badges, T-shirts – all sent through the post with a breezy note invariably beginning “Hello young man!” Mark is by no means the worst offender in this – almost everyone I encounter via work is a fair bit older than me – but I always have to remind myself not to feel irked or condescended-down-to by this: there will be a generation of dreadful young people whom I can justifiably address as “young man” and who will remind me of my increasing age and impending mortality before too long. So the trick is to try and enjoy it, really.

If you don’t know MJ Hibbett’s music, or him personally (I’m not sure one without the other is especially common, and this is a Good Thing) you should rectify the situation immediately. He has just released a new album, A Million Ukeleles, after three records with his band The Validators (named long before Oyster card readers came on the scene), with a fourth to follow. It’s an intriguing sidestep: the songs retain their humour, their optimism and their honesty, but obviously they sound a bit different with Mark playing most of the instruments (plus sundry Validators and others as occasional guests). The effect is, as you’d expect, a more basic sound, though it’s not truly “lo-fi” – all told it recalls Mark’s old tape releases of the mid-nineties, which had more or less petered out by the time I first encountered him in 1998 (free cassette with a fanzine! Ah, those were the days…), but escapees from which have cropped up as bonus material on some more recent releases.

Some of these are old songs, and some are perhaps those that didn’t find favour with the Validators. Down the Narborough Road and Chips and Cheese, Pint of Wine, revisit the nostalgic territory of Insert Title Here and Last Orders from 2003’s Validators album This Is Not A Library, while She Tastes Like Sugar, Save a Meadow and Hey William go to show that you can be sentimental in a song and still make something that is worth listening to. The strongest track of the collection is probably the title track, which kicks off the album with an unexpectedly rustic sound, and which reminds me of Jim Bob’s album School of last year. Like a lot of Mark’s songs, it expounds a rumination, in this case the idea that ukuleles (or however you wish to spell it…) would be a far better instrument for getting kids enthused about music than recorders or what-have-you, and are cheap and easy enough to be viable for the purpose.

As a Hibbett devotee of quite a few years’ standing, I enjoyed this record enormously. If you’ve not got any of his previous albums, you might be best to start with last year’s superlative Validators outing We Validate! – available from his website, g’wan, click on the link to the right! But if you’ve any sense you’ll then want to follow up with this, so be warned it’s available as a download only (there are some hand-packaged CD copies, but I feel pretty sure they will all have gone by now). As a solo side-project (and it’s wrong to call it that – it is, after all, a full MJ Hibbett album!) it’s a damn site more rewarding than Thom Yorke’s Radiohead side-step The Eraser.

If you’re in or near London, MJ Hibbett is playing upstairs at The Lamb, in the Bloomsbury Square / Gray’s Inn Fields area, next Tuesday, November 6th, in a special “after work” acoustic gig, kicking off at around 6:30 (I think). See you there!


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