Papa Shango – ‘Manservant’ Album Review

papa-shango-manservant

What makes a good band? This is a question that the slippery Simon Cowell and his slimy cronies would dearly love to answer and yet they miss the mark (and by miles) every time. They simply will not, and cannot, understand that rock music (in particular) remains loveable because of its flaws, and their attempts to airbrush imperfections away with odious shows like Pop Idol entirely miss the point of what makes an enduring act. Kiss, in contrast (and it really makes no nevermind whether you like them or not), understand far better than most what it takes to last in one of the world’s least forgiving industries. On the one hand the band have retina sizzling shows, full of fire, rockets and blood and, on the other hand, they know to deliver albums with at least one or two killer singles with which to draw in those that like their music to be, well musical. Similarly Papa Shango have the show side of things down to a tee. If you’ve not seen the band I won’t spoil it for you, suffice it to say that the band put on a show that would shame many higher budget acts. They know how to entertain and singer Papa Rob, who alternates between Papa Lazarou from the League of gentlemen and Benny Hill, offers the sort of focal point that few mainstream artists can truly be said to represent, let alone independent artists. With that side of things covered, the question remains, can Papa Shango cut it on CD, divorced from their stage show? The answer (for those that have heard the band) is obvious, but for those of you as yet unfamiliar, the answer is a resounding yes! Papa Shango (bastards that they are) not only have a stage show that most bands can only dream of, they also have the nous to write songs that lodge themselves in the cranium with all the force of an ice pick wielded by a particularly angry Sharon Stone…

Opening with recent single ‘Dangerwank’, Papa Shango neatly set the tone of this record. Defiantly un-PC, endlessly amusing, the fact that the music is, well, good, is just the icing on the comedic cake. Papa Rob is, in all honesty, not the best of vocalists in the traditional sense, but his style is unique and perfectly suits the music that his band unleash, whilst the chorus of backing singers do a fine job of providing extra depth to the vocals. Impressively the band put their limited budget to work and the production is surprisingly rich, offering plenty of separation between the heavy guitar riffs, the ever-present keyboard of Papa Ed and the rock-solid solos that pepper the songs. Arguably the British answer to the Bloodhound gang, but with better songs, Papa Shango manage to hit their stride from the off and if you’re not in hysterics by the end of the first track then it’s probably only because you’ve been head-banging along too vigorously to listen carefully to the lyrics. A personal favourite from the live show, ‘Buoys Ahoy!’ takes on new life in its studio incarnation, the riffs packing a vital punch even as the awful puns of the chorus stack up like Richard Whitely on an LSD addled rampage around Portsmouth docks. ‘Sympathy sex’ steals {ahem] half the riff from ‘(I can’t get no) Satisfaction’ and turns it into a sleazy tune that even Mick and his boys would have turned aside for sheer filth. It doesn’t quite pack the pop-infused punch of the bigger songs here, but it does a grand job of raising a smile. Another live highlight appears in the form of ‘sniff the milk’ (no, seriously)  which actually pales in comparison to the electro-nightmare of ‘Sasha Grey’ which crosses the Mighty Boosh with Blur to grand effect. It’s an album highlight and a track I keep coming back to.

With the riffs, the puns and the suspicious fluids flying past at an alarming rate we’re on to ‘Hellwitch’, an organ-enhanced (are you sure you mean that? – Ed.) blast of spacey hard rock that kicks more ass than comedy rock has any right to, referencing the old school metal with its wah guitar work, gang chant vocals and Papa Sam’s demolition job drumming. We’re off into dodgy funk territory with the creepily fun ‘Space tractor’ and then ‘Oliver Cromwell’ gets a right royal rogering, although the track is, arguably, one of the few throwaway moments on the record. In stark contrast, ‘Too sick to rule’ is an absolute belter, a full-throttle blast that I intend to have played at my inevitable conquering of the world (still working on that, more later). The album ends with ‘the ballad of Papa’s pie’, a song that sounds like a cross between Syd-era Floyd crossed with Monty Python. About as tasteful as a Jimmy Saville Halloween costume (Goddamit! You’re on your own with this one – Ed) it is a fitting end to an album that is liable to turn as many stomachs as heads.

The path of comedy rock is a dangerous one to take. Get the balance wrong and you risk producing songs that are either too serious and, therefore, miss out on the laughs or you risk producing material that gets a laugh but hasn’t the musical strength to be worth revisiting. Happily, for the most part, Papa Shango get it exactly right. Many of the songs here have powerful pop hooks that are as irresistible as the humour is goofy and Papa Rob keeps the laughs coming thick and fast. For an independent release the production is very good and the artwork fun, although I’d like to see more images of the band’s stage show adorning the packaging. There are perhaps a couple of songs that are too easily dismissed as filler (‘sympathy sex’ and ‘Oliver Cromwell’ spring to mind) and although they’re fun enough, they lack the bite of other tracks on offer. On the whole, however, ‘Manservant’ is a funny, memorable riff-fest that shows just how good Papa Shango are musically and, if there’s any justice, it will see Papa Shango invading even more festivals around this fair isle in the future.

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