Album Review: Insecure Men - 'Insecure Men'
David Lynchian lounge-pop that you want to pay attention to.
Insecure Men didn’t start with Insecure Men. It didn’t start, either, with Karaoke for One. Vol. 1: The Lonesome Sound of Saul And His Yamaha PSS-560, an album of covers that singer Saul Adamczewski uploaded in 2017 with little fanfare, after recording them with the titular-mentioned keyboard and his iPad microphone. That particular album, or mixtape perhaps would be a better word for it, ranges from Bruce Springsteen (“Streets of Philadelphia”) to Chris Isaak (“Wicked Games”) to The Pogues (“Rainy Night in Soho”) among others. It is a strikingly honest and straight-forward selection of covers, broad though the scope may be, that attempts to simply play with a handful of songs using a keyboard, it’s built in effects and drum-kit, a voice, and the nearest microphone at hand. Those who turn to it after Insecure Men’s eponymous debut will perhaps appreciate how raw and lo-fi it all feels – like an audition tape, almost, asking for permission to make the LP. A chuckle will no doubt be provided for fans, however, in the tracks being tagged as “religion & spirituality”.
Fitting, then, that Insecure Men started as a joke from Tamlan Saoudi, older brother of Fat White Family (for which Saul plays guitar) singer Lias, and keyboardist Nathan. Talking about the band, Tamlan joked that, instead of being called Fat White Family, they should have called themselves The Insecure Men Who Look At their Phones Too Much. Saul loved it and spent the next few years shopping the pithier version around to friends as an idea for a band name until, fed up of no one taking it, he claimed it for himself and a collection of songs he’d written that didn’t quite work for Fat White Family. Speaking about the songs and his goal for them, “I said we should make it a Fat White’s record, but it just didn’t really work. I wanted to sing all the songs and Lias is the singer.” When Saul was temporarily kicked out of the band to deal with his addiction problems, he had his opportunity. Linking up with Ben Romans-Hopcraft, whom he’d known since childhood but recently become close to since starting to play music together, and recording next-door to where some of his bandmates were recording The Moonlandingz’s debut album, in Sean Lennon’s studio, the tracks quickly got laid down.
And what a selection of tracks Insecure Men is. With input from Sean Lennon, alongside the already cemented collaboration of Saul and Ben, and assistance with lyrics from Lias and Nathan, the tracks are almost wholesome. Compared to Fat White Family, at least. It’s an album that defies simple categorization, particularly for anyone familiar with the band members’ prior output. That Ben might have reinvented himself yet again would come as no surprise to fans of Childhood, which moved away from their very indie-rock beginnings to an almost soul sound between their first and second album. But, that Saul could have written, and sung on, tracks that are, for lack of a better word, pretty? That comes as a shock. It is this very contrast and context, however, that makes the album so brilliant. Without it, we would perhaps shudder a little more at the subject of ‘Mekong Glitter’ – Gary Glitter. If it were an album that didn’t come from someone out of Fat White Family, perhaps we would be a little more creeped out by the ‘Teenage Toy’ chorus of “Teenage toy/ messing around with all the older boys.” But, because of his musical pedigree, it’s clear that Saul is not empathizing with Gary Glitter, nor is he trying to minimize the deaths of Whitney Houston and her daughter, Bobbi Christina Brown, in ‘Whitney Houston & I.’ He’s just fascinated by the subjects.
Insecure Men is David Lynchian lounge-pop that you want to pay attention to. Imagine a hazy restaurant cum nightclub – full of smoke because it’s back in a time when that’s still legal – with a wiry, suit-clad man clutching a microphone as the band around him plays music that wants to sit in the background as you enjoy your meal, but the lyrics coming from the singer make you sit up and pay close attention. Of course, to call the music “background music” is completely incorrect and frankly insulting, but the songs strike you musically as being not just evocative of another time, but from another time. Saul and Ben, and the other members of the 10-strong band, aren’t doing an impression of the exotica and pop and disco and children’s songs that they wanted to evoke, they’re completely and wholly channelling them. And then completely and wholly fucking with our understanding, and remembrance, of them. Saul described the album, in the lead up to its release, as “pretty music with a dark underbelly to it,” a description that accurately sums up the relationship between the music and melodies, and the lyrics.
Standout tracks on the album include ‘All Women Love Me,’ ‘Mekong Glitter,’ ‘Heathrow,’ ‘I Don’t Want to Dance (With My Baby),’ and closer ‘Buried in the Bleak.’ ‘All Women Love Me’ is the biggest song on the album with a build-up of a chorus that leads into a lush outro that calls to mind the dream-sequence music of old Hollywood movies.
‘Mekong Glitter’ manages to overcome it’s subject matter with a stomp-stomp-clap beat that evokes Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’. It forces the listener to question the kind of time that Gary Glitter could have existed in with the ending lyrics “Why? Don’t you ever ask why?” repeating over and over before the track sinks into a glorious staticky, noisy mess of sound. ‘Heathrow’ stands out for the way it ends, dragging its feet to a stop, slowing down noisily and distinctly, like a massive train coming into station – a palate cleanser of sorts between ‘Mekong Glitter’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Dance (With My Baby)’, that stands out for its effect as much as it perhaps shouldn’t. ‘I Don’t Want to Dance (With My Baby),’ easily the best of the singles released in anticipation of the album, strides along with the hectic self-confidence of Danny Zuko from Grease, with a self-conscious weight on its shoulders: “I don’t want to dance with my baby/ in front of the whole street.” ‘Buried in the Bleak’ is the track’s longest song, and possibly the most similar sounding to a children’s song. An interesting sound given that it is perhaps the most personal track on the album, detailing the relationship between Lias and Saul as it does. There’s a fragility behind the song that sticks with the listener much more than the notes themselves.
Those looking to catch Insecure Men live should head out now for their impending handful of dates as it’s unlikely they’ll tour much more than the bare minimum. In Saul’s words, “I won’t tour much because it’s boring and makes music bad.” A warning to be heeded by their fans.