Mitch Benn: Breaking Strings

Track-by-track CD review by Steve Bennett

Radio 4's Now Show regular Mitch Benn releases his seventh studio album, Breaking Strings, today, Here's our track-by-track review

1. I’m Proud Of The BBC

This inspirational We Didn’t Start The Fire-style hymn, niftily listing scores of brilliant programmes that have come from the corporation, is a perfect rallying cry for defenders of licence-funded broadcasting in the face of the relentless onslaught by media giants who have a lot to gain from the abolition of their high-quality rival. ‘You’ll know what you had when you lose it’ is the message. It’s not a funny song, but it’s important – and one that’s a rarity for Benn: coming from the heart, rather than the need to write two topical songs to a deadline to fulfil his contractual agreement with Radio 4

2. Quantum Mechanics

Quantum principles say we can never know the precise location of a particle. The same might be said of Benn’s accent here, which we might assume is an approximation of Professor Brian Cox, but is certainly subject to quite a lot of uncertainty. Like They Might Be Giants’ song Why Does The Sun Shine?, this is a glaze of pop physics over a catchy beat, earning Benn some geek kudos.

3. I Love My Phone

The joke here’s given away by the title. The refrain ‘Baby I love you, but not like I love my phone’ is backed up by some easy and obvious comments about how a mobile is better than a partner. It would never pass muster as stand-up – and the melody’s not up to much either.

4. Budget Air

Another comedy cliché? You betcha. This is a litany of complaints such as extortionate hidden costs and airports nowhere near the cities they purportedly serve. This U2 parody, reflecting the fact Ryanair’s Irish-owned, is pretty ‘no frills’ itself.

5. The Queen Mother

A ska song of praise for the Her Royal Irieness, originally written for The Now Show It would probably help if you remember last year’s story that Caribbean music was one of The Queen Mum’s favourite genres. It’s funky but flimsy, over before it gets into the subject.

6. Win 1 Lose 1

A brutally realistic football chant written for the 2010 World Cup. You may will consider that Baddiel and Skinner captured the honest pain of supporting England with much more aplomb – not to mention hope – with Three Lions, a classic which he acknowledges here by appropriating the ‘it’s coming home’ chant. However this one never made it to the terraces, and with good reason, even though the chorus is catchy.

7. God Is One Everyone’s Side

Musically, this one owes a nod to Bob Dylan, thanks to the harmonica breaks. This is Benn in thoughtful mode – which seems to be where he operates more successfully than in the lukewarm comedy of earlier tracks. There are some pensive lyrics here about the folly of religion, eloquently put.

8. World Of Warcraft

Another one for the nerds, but this cod prog rock number is more ambiguous. It’s got quite a lot of the usual cracks at the expense of gaming geeks with their ‘pallid skin’ and so forth – but equally acknowledges he’s not a million miles from them, and only the pressures of work and family keep him from joining the realms of orc and elves or whatever.

9. He Don’t Look Right

This sinister-sounding number is another with an excellent point, skilfully made. Unambiguously inspired by the frenzied tabloid character attack on Christopher Jefferies, briefly a suspect in the Jo Yeates murder trial, this is a powerful and haunting cautionary tale of how mob rule and sneery insults levelled at an eccentric man arbitrarily defined as ‘creepy’ came to substitute for justice and the rule of law. A definite highlight of the album, if again a track with absolutely no humorous intent.

10. Stab A Burglar

Jaunty music-hall style number about the right to defend your property. Inconsequential but fun… and as good a time as any to mention the musical contribution of the two Distractions: Kirsty Newton and Ivan Sheppard.

11. Song For Europe

A hands-across-the-continent paean to the international brotherhood of man? No, this is a string of xenophobic stereotypes presented as expletive-filled insults. It’s surely tongue-in-cheek, but even by turning the last verse back on the British, it’s not quite clear what Benn was aiming at here.

12. Lullaby For The Real World

And another one where the point is unclear. It’s a downbeat ‘life’s a bitch and then you die’ bedtime tale for a three-year-old, but the home truths are all very real, rather than wittily or inventively imagined, making it pedestrian.

13. The Library

Like the inspirational BBC song, a plea for a public-funded institution that he credits with enriching the cultural life of a nation. It’s nowhere near as rousing as the opening number, but equally heartfelt, as he fears for what effect the Tories’ Big Society notion of expecting ‘the community’ to run such services without payment will have on inspiring the new generation. Poignant more than punchy, but a fine cause.

14. I Love The BBC (Live)

What it says. A live version of this:

  • Mitch Benn And The Distractions: Breaking Strings is released on Laughing Stock today. Click here to buy from Amazon for £6.61.

Published: 19 Mar 2012

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