The Cut Ups are a band that I first listened to during my uni days (2009–2012). I listened to their 2008 album, The High And Mighty, a lot but then sort of forgot about them. However, last year I saw them live for the first time (stupidly I never saw them whilst at university in Cornwall, even though they are from neighbouring county of Devon) at Manchester Punk Festival… then again about a month later, in Norwich. It rekindled my love for their songs and when I heard they’d be releasing a new album at the end of 2016 I was very keen.
The Nerves was released on Banquet Records in November of last year. I had such a busy end of 2016, mostly due to needing to find somewhere new to live and then moving when I’d found said place, that I ended up missing most of the new releases in November and December. But now, come new year, I have properly taken the time to listen to the album… and review it!
The Nerves opens with An Introduction. This isn’t an ‘introduction’ in the typical sense of being instrumental – it’s got lyrics and everything! – but it does set the tone for what’s to come. The drums are pounding, the guitars are noisy and, most importantly, the lyrics are assertive – ‘I don’t know what’s perfect but I know what’s not right, what’s not right.’ End Of The Road is the second track on the album and, in true Cut Ups style, it is quite the protest song. From the opening lines of ‘Hands up if you’re sick of intimidation’ to the bouncy chorus of ‘There’s hope for those nobody knows’ and the poignant closing lines of the song, ‘Bigotry, not here. Tragedy, no fear.’, The Cut Ups have perfectly summed up the problems with Britain today. The third track on The Nerves is called Nervous And Anxious and, spoiler alert, it’s probably my favourite on the album. There’s elements of The Clash to the song – Joe Strummer even gets a mention in the fourth line – and also elements of Billy Bragg, two artists that I’m sure the band won’t be too upset about being compared to. The song is about suffering from anxiety but using music to help feel better. The chorus is catchy, despite the serious topic, and features some subtle backing vocals from Pippa. ‘Are you nervous and anxious at the thought of giving in? Roll up your sleeves and start again.’
Next up is Thomas Orchard Is No Longer Around. I wouldn’t really have known had I not heard frontman Jon Shoe explain the meaning of the song at a gig but Thomas Orchard was a man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was unlawfully killed by police in Exeter. It’s obviously a news story that was more relevant in the South West of England but by writing his story in a song, The Cut Ups have done a great thing in expressing their disgust for what happened. Musically the song has a great guitar riff and drum rhythm that I can imagine clapping along to. The fifth song is titled Walt Whitman’s Punkrock Band – a bit reminiscent of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but, well, more punk. It’s a fairly simple track with a melodic guitar riff that sits comfortably behind Jon’s relatively shouty vocal style. It is perhaps slower than the previous tracks but it builds nicely to the last line in the song – one that you’re going to want to sing or shout along to – ‘I’m never gonna be like you’!
Head Over Water mixes things up completely as not only does bassist, Jack, take over for vocal duties but the sound is completely different too. It’s quite refreshing to have this song slotted in the middle of the album. The guitars have a different tone and the whole thing sounds cool, calm and collected. It reminds me of some American alternative rock bands but unfortunately I can’t think of anyone in particular to reference right now! The lines ‘The first part of changing is admitting it, Whatever you say just get on with it’ are some wise advice. Jon is back for the vocals on Everything Needn’t Fall Apart. This track is a lively, upbeat and fairly poppy-sounding. I would say that the instrumentation in the song is turned up a notch whilst the vocals actually sound a little distorted. Towards the end of the track however the line ‘I still conclude that things get better.’ rings loud and clear, ending the song on a positive note.
The tempo picks up again for a classic sounding Cut Ups song, We’ll All Sail On. It has a nice sort of question and answer style going on between the vocal lines and the guitar part, particularly for the lines ‘Am I now recovering, what it means to be a human being? Or am I losing everything?’ It sounds a little bit like an existential crisis but makes for a great punk song. You Don’t Need To Fit In is a track that I’m sure most people reading this review can relate to. Are you sick of being told all of your ‘faults’? That you should change yourself to conform to the norm? Does this sound like an advert that you’d see when watching TV late at night? If yes, you need to listen to this song instead of me. As Jon Shoe says ‘I can’t write it clearer, we don’t need to fit in.’
A Nuclear Half-Life is the penultimate track on The Nerves and is another shift in tone and musical style. Jon sings the first slow-paced chorus, featuring a little organ in the background – which Bandcamp tells me is played by Franz Nicolay – but then Pippa takes over for the chorus. Both the words and Pippa’s voice are beautifully haunting, ‘It was a long drive, A nuclear half-life, Or, one more chance to stay alive, With no one that we knew.’ It’s a shame that Pippa doesn’t sing more on the album in general really as she has a lovely voice. Then lastly we come to Stay Obscure. There’s a neat little melodic guitar intro before Jon’s shouty vocal style is back for the first verse. I have to admit, if I hadn’t have been reading the lyrics I’d have no clue what he’s singing – ‘The cannons and the tanks, Capote’s three’ . (And I’m not entirely sure what that means. Too obscure for me.) The contrast between the guitars and vocals is akin to The Cut Ups style but the musical bridge of Stay Obscure is not so much. It, unusually, features a brass section and really gives a sense of the album coming to a close.