Album Review: Skinny Lister – The Story Is…

Skinny Lister’s sea shanty and folk influences are often cited, but the opening track of The Story Is, Second Amendment, bursts out with unmistakable punk credentials. Singer Dan Heptinstall spits politically aware lyrics over a downbeat upstroke combination of ska and Camden punk.

Lyrics such as “Like California wild fire/this thing is out of control… I love my God/I love my Second Amendment” have ruffled feathers in the U.S., including among the band’s friends. Credit to them for not shying away from controversy; they placed it right in the firing line as track one. It’s an album highlight, and inevitable live show mainstay, speaking truth to power.

My Life, My Architecture foregrounds that Skinny Lister have two main vocalists. Lorna Thomas’ sense of motion and fun is audible. The lyrics explore worries about letting a new love in, fearing chaos: “rattle my foundation/the ground beneath is shaking/are you a gamble that’s worth taking/or an earthquake in the making?” The Mondrian-esque primary coloured video matches the effervescent sound perfectly.

Diesel Vehicle has a slow tempo to match the enforced inactivity of a car breakdown amidst the slowly dawning realisation that the protagonist was at fault for choosing the wrong fuel. There’s a tantalising hint of a romantic backstory: “my mind was filled up with the thought of you.” Perhaps that’s why the domino effect of missed trains and planes is quite so upsetting.

Rattle & Roar is a trademark Skinny modern shanty. Maxwell Thomas’ accordion hovers ready to strike, and the lyrics explore one of the band’s favourite themes: living a full life. The chorus is ready made for an impassioned fan singalong: “Oh, rattle/rattle & roar/found a war worth battling for/I won’t leave this world before/I’ve left a trail of rattle & roar” are the words you need to know! Kudos for still including local references while creating an album reaching for widespread transatlantic appeal: “turn the volume up to full/hear it from L.A. to Hull.”

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Artist Arsonist is a another ready-made singalong. The earworm is difficult to resist after just a few lines. It’s based on a true story of Heptinstall finding out that a nihilistic neighbour had started a fire in his flat:” when they quizzed him/down at the station/’I just don’t care anymore’ was his statement.” The sound of the song is full with deep harmonies.

Lorna’s back on lead for The Shining, which is again imbued with her own sunny personality even when it’s praising her lover: “you’re the spark/you’re the sparkle/you’re the sparkle in the dark.” The music is a bit of a departure for the band, with dance pop elements surrounding Lorna’s powerful vocal.

The Story Is was the album’s lead single and it sees Heptinstall sweetly singing a sweet love song. It takes its time to reach a memorable, soaring middle eight with a touch of falsetto harmony: “like some power ballad that they wrote in the 1980s/you lift me.”

38 Minutes is pure Skinny Lister and its bloody brilliant. It can join classics like Trouble On Oxford Street if you ever need to prove to uninitiated friends what they’re missing with this band. Emerging from an era when potentially apocalyptic emergency messaging was headline news, the songs barrels in with “Got a text in the coffee shop/It said ‘you’re going to die.” Despite the serious subject, it’s an exuberant song. The ethos continues the theme explored in Rattle & Roar: “were gonna go out in style/one last moment together/one more chance to get wild…38 minutes/we looked it in the eye.”

My Distraction is a sparkling, strident love song from Lorna. The driving drums and epic guitar solo deserve a mention too.

Stop & Breathe is a good call after all those bangers in a row. Lorna and Dan duet on a tender, motivational track inspired by the tragedy of suicide: “I’m here now/I’m all yours/I’m listening” is the almost whispered final thought.

Cause For Chorus is an idiosyncratic love song highlighted with Thomas’ accordion, pushed on with rhymes and imagery: “sometimes we’ll fight like it’s the Alamo/but that’s OK/you’re all I want/you’re all I know.”

Allister McAllister raises the stakes of location specificity by finding a rhyme for tiddly om pom pom, a phrase taken from a 1907 music hall song that celebrates the British working class tradition of a trip to the seaside. Skinny Lister’s song recounts a furtive weekend on the Hastings coast; the subjects are on the verge of having an affair: “separate rooming/who’s it fooling/I don’t want this weekend to end.”

Every Skinny Lister album needs a Lorna track reminiscent of a centuries old folk song, if it’s not a historical ballad itself. Sometimes So It Goes is the band’s latest version.

Attentive fans will notice that a line in Allister McAllister – “my love for you/it’s a dangerous thing” – echoes a lyric from Devil In Me on their previous album. Any Resemblance To Actually Events proves that was no mere coincidence. The opening chorus is a clear reference to the band’s masterpiece 2014 single Trouble On Oxford Street. Meta references continue throughout the song, including a nod to Artist Arsonist on the current album. It’s a jokey apologist song alluding to the trouble songwriters get in for taking inspiration form real life: “maybe I should have run it by him first/because when he heard the chorus and the second verse/it range a little true.”

Skinny Lister’s latest album sees them exploring new genres and musical styles while still packing in enough clever rhymes and barnstorming singalongs to appeal to their dedicated fans.

The Story Is is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings. You can buy it on yellow vinyl or digital download on their website

The CD version is sold out on their site but you can get it for under £8 on Amazon. At no additional cost to you, I will earn commission if you click the image below and make a purchase. Thank you!

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