Like millions of other British people, I’ve been listening to the brand new album Pop-Up! Ker- Ching! And The Possibilities Of Modern Shopping by Mozart Estate. This is of course the record that says everything about everything in post-Truss Britain, from the perspective of a man who knows a great deal about 50 years of promised success and poorly-managed decline.
The new album contains a new version of “Relative Poverty”, which first appeared on 2018’s album Mozart’s Mini Mart, and which should have been Christmas #1 for all the years Ladbaby hogged the chart. For this new album “Mozart Estate” has now become the name of the act, although the cover of the 2018 album described it as “Mozart Estate present Go-Kart Mozart in…”. The name Go-Kart Mozart was first used on the 2000 album Instant Wigwam And Igloo Mixture but since some other band of roughly the same level of fame are also now using it it was clearly time to move on.
Those liner notes show that the production values and conception of these records is in the same mood as late 70s/early 80s DIY indie music, which is the world Lawrence first started in. However the sound borrows more from novelty electronic music like “Groovin’ With Mr Bloe” and “Da Da Da”. When I saw them playing live at the end of 2018 he had a whole warm-up tape of stuff like that.
Lyrically we are in the world of middle- and late-middle-aged men living alone, having horrible experiences when they venture out on to the High Street to go to a mini-mart, or hiding at home learning about the world from local newspapers or the worst of the internet, possibly with a collection of pisspoor modern British gangster films from the DVD section of a charity shop. “Four White Men In A Black Car” and “Poundland”. The decline of the High Street, and traditional shopping centres generally, is a theme, but now we also have health problems such as “When The Harridans Came To Call”. Other than that, the formula was already established on 2005’s Tearing Up The Album Charts with “City Centre”, “England And Wales” and “At The DDU”, and then 2012’s On The Hot Dog Streets with “Mickie Made The Most”, “White Stilettos In The Sand” and the leery old man fantasy of “Queen Of The Scene”. Nothing on the new album is quite as awesome as the genius of “Chromium Plated We’re So Elated” from 2018.
The very first album was always known to be a rushed-out fundraiser and not a full conceptual suite, and so it was a patchy collection of sub-Spitting Image/Now Show efforts like “Wendy James”, comedy sampler nonsense like “Mrs Back To Front And The Bull Ring Thing”, and one quite good pop song that was briefly considered a potential crossover hit. “Wendy James” is quite honest since Lawrence very obviously would have loved to have the chance to work on an album with the star of Transvision Vamp, since he wrote plenty of T-Rex-style guitar rock singles for his 90s group Denim. Denim wrote the music for Shampoo’s big hit single. As was clear in Lawrence Of Belgravia, he would dearly loved to have written a couple of proper smash hit singles just like his old mate who joined Republica.
I saw him 10 years ago doing a Q&A at the Riverside Studios, and on the way out I overheard a man with a posh voice saying how fascinating and charming the childlike naivete was and how hilarious it all sounded in a Midlands accent… or something equally dreadful and condescending. I’ve met and spoken to Lawrence a few times around Rough Trade and Whitechapel and he is quite pleasant and ready to talk to the small number of people who recognise him as a minor celebrity. 5 years ago there were offers to put on reunion shows of Felt but he wasn’t keen, which is just as well as they’d have trouble deciding on the line-up. I prefer the early Cherry Red albums with Maurice Deebank’s guitar dominant, which sound like nothing else and can’t be placed at any time. I’m not so fussed about the later Dylanish stuff. I prefer the slapdash of Denim On Ice to the more programmatic, slightly overcooked (it was years in the making) Back In Denim. The former contains “Jane Suck Died In ’77” which doesn’t sound so good now that Jane Suck has died. Ice has more of a musical revue style, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t like a track as you can just skip it, it’s written-for-CD. The world of Rough Trade and old blokes who still fidget about John Peel’s opinions is referenced in “Record Store Day” on the new album, and notice that the official video has a brief glimpse of Dorothy’s “I Confess” single. She knew Jane Suck, as she mentions in her new book.
The lyrics and vocals of those early Felt albums are quite different from Denim and the Mozart albums. They are a young man’s ambition to be a character in a world he has heard about, which is not the world he lives in but somewhere adjacent to it, that a route can be found in to, using books and films and groups. That life is now a memory of the older man writing about the world he lives in, on a different estate.
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Sad coincidence: Tom Verlaine died. He was an influence on Felt, who took their name from a line he sang in “Venus” by Television.