Cranky George – Fat Lot of Good
The first full length release from the Los Angeles based five piece Cranky George signals the opening of another chapter in a long musical story. The story begins with James Fearnley and his role in co-founding one of the most iconic acts of the last quarter of the 20th century, The Pogues, whose influence is never far from this release. Following Fearnley’s departure from The Pogues, he formed The Low and Sweet Orchestra with the Mulroney brothers, Dermot and Kieran. They released one critically well received album, Goodbye to All That, before later disbanding. Fearnley and the Mulroney Brothers formed the first incarnation of Cranky George as a trio, but following the release of a well received EP, the project lay fallow for some time. When the principals freed themselves up enough to return to the project, they made a decision to further flesh out the band’s sound with the addition of Brad Wood on bass and Sebastian Sheehan Visconti on drums and percussion. This lineup’s recording debut, Fat Lot of Good, is a stunningly diverse collection of songs with imagination and bravery to burn.
Things start rambunctiously. The first song “Tunnel of Love” has a memorable point of view and a fair amount of underplayed humor. Cranky George distinguishes themselves throughout the release as purveyors of top notch songwriting and it’s about much more than their musical chops. Their sound is clearly conceived and brimming over with confidence. This confidence in their direction further strengthens the songwriting and helps them sound like an organic unit playing as one rather than as a conglomeration of parts blessedly coalescing into a song. The straight-ahead beat of “Katyusha” gives it a rare physicality on this album that grabs listeners with little, if any, preamble and doesn’t relax its hold. “Greenland’s Ice” is one of the album’s first and, arguably, most pronounced turns into the language and subject matter of traditional folk. The musical elements, likewise, echo the retro vibe, but the vocal plays the song without any affectation.
Some more of Cranky George’s affinity for sardonic dark humor comes through on “Misery Road”, but play it as lightly as before rather than relying on it. None of the songs on Fat Lot of Good depends on one quality to win audiences over; these are fully rounded creations with performances to match their potential. “Yes!” has an insistent guitar riff introducing the track that quickly establishes itself as the song’s signature sonic element, but the light percussion accompanying the track bring an appealing persistent pulse to the track that keeps things breezy and fleet-footed. “Sausage Moon” slows things down considerably while incorporating strings and Fearnley’s accordion in a much more pronounced way than before. “The Bones” has a distinctly more American edge than many of the other songs and sounds like something a little rockabilly or Southwestern crossed with twang taken straight from traditional country music. Cranky George quite convincingly makes it their own, however.
The finale “Nighttime” concludes Fat Lot of Good with a rousing curtain. It’s quite impressive how the band maintains such a high level of energy in every song despite many of the entries sporting undoubtedly challenging arrangements. There isn’t a single song here, however, that isn’t immediately accessible to a wide swath of listeners. Cranky George has produced quite a memorable album with Fat Lot of Good that offers something to everyone.
9 out of 10 stars.