The very definition of “Middle England” may well be found in Dorking, Surrey. Home of your writer’s place of work, I can unequivocally state there is the square route of fuck all to do there, which may be why it’s been such a fertile ground for producing talented bands. Acts like Stagecoach, WeGrowBeards!, Break Ups, The Brilliantly Simple hail from the Surrey Hills, alongside the singer of Great Cynics, Giles Bidder. Having touted his wares acoustically for a fair while, Giles added a “Great” to his moniker along with drummer Bob Barrett and bassist Iona Cairns, and this full-length is the trio’s second, following on from 2011’s promising ‘Don’t Need Much’.
Giles moved out of the sticks into London a fair while ago, and much like Apologies, I Have None’s paean to the Big Smoke, the song titles suggest a similar love letter to England’s capital, predominantly its trendiest areas – ‘Kingsland Roaches’ references Kingsland Road in Dalston, ‘Goodbye Astbury Castle’ is a nod to a venue in Peckham, and ‘Back To Hackney’… well, that’s a statement of the bleeding obvious. Great Cynics are no hipsters though – this represents a proudly unfashionable style of grunged-up folk-punk, as influenced by The Lemonheads, The Hold Steady and Billy Bragg as it is by Against Me! and The Clash. This record is a ray of sunshine throughout; a burst of light and colour during the coldest March in decades. The thing is, “jubilant” seems to be the only level Great Cynics operate at, and bearing grins this large all the time tires quickly.
As Nina Simone once sang, don’t let me be misunderstood; this record is packed to the brim with chunky riffs, juicy organ lilts and honest storytelling lyrics, it just lacks dimension. It will make you want to dance, it will make you want to sing, it will make you want to jump around with reckless abandon, and for some, that’s all they require from their punk rock. These songs are the musical equivalent of that guy (and everyone knows one) who is constantly, ruthlessly positive and affable, the “glass half-full” dude – you could punch him in the face and he’d still probably tell you to “have a nice day”. He’s nice to have around for a bit, but after a while you’re pleading for him to show some personality, display some real emotion, prove he’s got some grit and edge behind that sunny exterior.
This album is made for hot days in the park with some mates and a few cheap ciders, and it’s a solid body of work – problem is, stretched out over 13 tracks, the relentlessly punchy mood Great Cynics bring to the table gets a bit much to handle. It’s hard to differentiate between offerings here, it all just garners the reaction of “Awh, that’s nice”. Not in the condescending fashion, but “nice” really is the strongest adjective you can apply to this material. A lot of people will absolutely love this record, and it’s easy to see why; this is like a ‘Parklife’-era Blur or ‘Village Green…’-era Kinks for a new generation, quintessentially British, accessible and charming music; however, for me, there’s just not a lot of substance behind the smile.