The Blue Aeroplanes
(Last Night From Glasgow)
‘It’s fucking Dickensian man!’
Well, in all of my years of listening to the Blue Aeroplanes, I’ve never been confronted by such bad language, but on album opener ‘Hips Like Cigarettes’ Gerald Langley comes to this conclusion as he reflects on the war on the poor, foodbanks, Brexit and all of its advocates, bedroom tax and the death of culture as we once knew it. Yes, Gerald, it is fairly fucking Dickensian.
It’s been nearly six years since we last heard from the Blue Aeroplanes. Much of the delay was due to Langley being hospitalised with cancer, and then the aggravation of the various lockdowns. Not surprisingly, this album sounds a lot angrier than before.
Comeback single ‘Building an Arc For the Anthropocene' shares its title with a piece in the New York Times from 2014 that feared how the earth was rapidly heading toward the ‘sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet’. In another list of the world’s ill Langley mourns ‘the vanishing species and the lakes that turn to deserts’ and also chides society’s dependence on social media (‘what have you wrought Tim Berners Lee?’). There really are far more ideas at play in one Blue Aeroplanes lyric than almost any other artist you care to mention.
As long-standing fans of the band will remind you, a Blue Aeroplanes album is not just about Langley. Mike Youe’s fabulously anxious ‘Someone (in the Arms of No One)’ is a grungy delight, with a slight hint of vintage Peter Buck in places (as an aside, I first saw the Blue Aeroplanes when they supported REM in 1990), it’s an album highlight. Having made her vocal debut on ‘Welcome Stranger’ guitarist Bec Jevons returns to the mike on the sweaty ‘(An Unlikely Hit of) Adoration’ – a blast of 70’s New York punk with Patti Smith-esque drawling vocals.
After all that glorious noise, the stripped-back ‘Lapdogs in the Wild’ is a melancholic conclusion, Langley almost whispering the lines. ‘Somewhere someone is lying in chains for nothing but an opinion’ he mourns as he notes so many injustices, accompanied by only a beguiling clarinet and acoustic guitar. It’s a wonderful if haunting end.
After more than forty years (and more than 48 members), it’s a joy to report that the Blue Aeroplanes are as thrilling, surprising and as smart as they have always been. Welcome (Back) Strangers!