The concept album is something that’s always made my heart sink, ever since my youth standing in Parrot Records in Colchester listening to other kids older brothers discussing records which appeared to be based on sci-fi novels or historical figures (or in their wildest, fantastical dreams, both).
Whole double albums based on interplanetary travel or King Alfred or Thracian gladiators, arranged and played by men with theatrically long hair and a desperate need to haul a symphony orchestra into a studio for a week to keep them company (or “realise their vision” as they used to pompously put it).
NOTE: hypocritically of course, even I fell for ELO’s concept-lite albums (especially the other-worldy ‘A New World Record’) but I still shudder at the mention of Yes’ ‘Tales Of Topographic Oceans’, which the older brothers were still listening to in 1977, a full four years after it was released (it’s THAT long!). ‘Tales Of Topographic Oceans’? The Damned have just released an album which is all done in the time it takes to eat a Milky Way, and you’re still listening to ‘TALES OF TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS.”?
Forty years later the Lonely Tourist returns with a concept album of sorts and I can’t stop playing it.
This is not singer-songwriter Paul Tierney’s first concept record either. With his other band The Plume Of Feathers he released a heartfelt plea of an album a couple of years ago about the decline of – and challenges faced by – the British Pub trade.
Now reverting to his guise of LT, he’s gone back to, erm, the day job. ‘Remuneration’ is a record which embraces 13 songs loosely based round the theme of employment, written both from personal experience and affectionate observations.
Tierney has two basic MOs: the poignant upbeat strummer and the bolshy band-led barnstormer. You get a bit of both here, starting with the wonderful ‘Frank The Barber’, a sketch of a day in the life of your average unpretentious hair dressers (“We talk to our reflections as I say ‘What would you like?’/’Well, a tiny bit off the top, but Two on the sides’.”)
This is the thing about Tierney, he writes a believable script. His dialogue and the images he creates are unfussy, understated and yet, fascinatingly real (I think this is one of the reasons I rate him as well: he writes terrifically well about underdogs – without being condescending or unnecessarily cloying).
Other characters featured include a guy who winds up being a tailor specialising in highland dress and ‘Workshy Mckay’, a musical departure with Tierney backed by drums alone, which tells the story of a man who counts his days by cigarette breaks.
‘Smells Like Team Meeting’, one of the band bangers, is apparently a hard lesson learnt by Tierney himself (I wonder if the same can be said for the (mildly?) tongue in cheek ‘Kicked Out The Band’?).
The surprise, for me, though is ‘Last Day At Tony’s’, one of the tracks on the single, which I think I semi-dismissed when it came out, but which is a gritted-teeth tale of a business going to the wall amid a narrative of bullshit (“All we wanted was less duplicity.”)
Injustice and sympathy sit side by side, as they do across the whole album; which, even I’ll admit, isn’t a bad basis for a concept record.
Hear it for yourself: https://lonelytourist.bandcamp.com/album/remuneration