‘Pop Up Jim Bob’ comes seven years after Jim Bob’s previous studio album, but in that time he’s been doing anything but resting. There have been Carter USM reunion gigs; two massive and critically acclaimed solo tours and, as J.B. Morrison, he’s written award-nominated novels. You can say what you like about this man, but you could never accuse him of being lazy. Compared to his Carter days, Jim’s solo work has sometimes been overlooked, but as those who were present at any of his “National Treasure” shows – or have been lucky enough to catch him at other times with pianist Chris-TT – will attest, he’s lost none of his lyrical bite. Those still paying attention after 1997 have known the pleasures of Jim’s sweary cookery teacher (‘Mrs. Fucking MacMurphy Teaches Food Technology’), Ray Davies-esque romances transplanted to the inner city with added heroin for the heroine (‘In The Future All This Will Be Yours’) and supermarket unrest (‘The Tesco Riots’, a number that melds a very Carter USM-ish lyric with the kind of bluesy arrangement you wouldn’t have found within a hundred miles of his previous band’s albums). With most of his best work carrying a strong narrative, Jim has continued to be one of the UK’s most distinctive songwriters, regardless of any musical differences.
His 2020 album displays a lot more of that well-loved acerbic wit applied to a truckload of social commentary and manages to add extra interest by being more varied than most people might expect. Finding Jim at his most political, ‘If It Ain’t Broke’ references “hate printed on hats, worn at gun shows” and attacks the act of fracking, all the while making sure there’s couple of fantastic hooks…and it takes all of two plays before “say it, spray it” lodges within the listener’s noggin. The album’s stand out track, the heartbreaking ‘#thoughtsandprayers’, deals with the relationship between human atrocities and a tendency to be less than proactive. The world has seen a lot of this behaviour via social media, and Jim is less than shy in sharing his (correct) belief that religious beliefs are of no help to “the boy in the hotpants shot down in cold blood”, the families that “capsized in their rubber dinghy” while seeking refuge, or any nurses who’ve found themselves on the receiving end of racism in a horrible post-Brexit landscape. The more tragic elements of the lyric are given a little balance by a facetious look at the other people who are likely to receive no help from a world’s thoughts and prayers, including trapped Victorian chimney sweeps (the mention of the government snidely implies that Jacob Rees-Mogg still employs one!), those with a lack of Twitter followers and even the now legendary Abraham and Julianne. With all of this wrapped within a deep bass, drumming with an almost tribal influence and some ominous ambient synths, it’s a track with a genuine menace and worth the price of purchase alone.
Further justified anger at current affairs is vented on the direct ‘2020 WTF!’, a thirty second pure punk banger where Jim expresses disdain at stupid celebrities and bad politicians. You’d think that the lack of Covid-19 references would’ve rendered this obsolete by the time of release (it was written in 2019), but there’s a remarkable clairvoyancy in one of its best lines: “You’re worse than 2016 when everybody died…”. That anger turns to a mournfulness on ‘You’re Cancelled And We’re Done’, a short number further exploring the state of the world, featuring a world-weary vocalist on a track that vaguely resembles older classics ‘Suicide Isn’t Painless’ and ‘The Final Comedown’. Although rather slight, this track works excellently tucked away at the end of the album. Long-time fans will certainly find a love for it, especially considering its familiar tone. A similarly minimalist ‘Big Boy’ is heavy on the synths and its off-kilter waltz will certainly strike a chord with the Carter fan base. The stripped back music seems is used to give the perfect unease against a lyric describing a man’s ease at taking offence. Released at a time when internet arseholes seem only too keen to label the more introverted people snowflakes, this feels like it carries another important message.
Those looking for something a little more frivolous – at least on the surface – could find an instant favourite in ‘Barry’s On Safari’, where Jim explores his love of glam rock and other 70s pop influences via a really bouncy arrangement. Between its jangling guitars, punchy bass riff and shameless handclaps, it’s a really retro gem deserving of a cranked volume. Lyrically, of course, it’s not quite as much fun, as the titular Barry is a colossal twat – a drunken, racist bigmouth who thinks he’s a genuine gift to the world. The push and pull between social comment and pointing and laughing at other people’s ignorance makes this classic Morrison fare. Somewhere between the album’s two extremes, The stomping ‘Kidstrike!’ presents another highlight with a fantastic use of heavy, bluesy riffs which maintain a real presence. It finds Jim another dark mood as he contrasts his tales of teenage violence with the kind of youth choir John Lennon would have exploited to pull at the heartstrings, while the wonderfully wordy single ‘Jo’s Got Papercuts’ brings fine indie rock sounds, used to drive another striking narrative. Here, Jim looks at the media coverage of the US keeping children in cages and the continued battle against knife crimes. Meanwhile, the (presumably) fictional Jo’s own experiences are highlighted when she’s exposed to a town’s racist flyposting (possibly another reference to whichever “political party” Nigel the propagandist shitbag was promoting that week). You’ll also find a welcome side-swipe at a musical hero who, through his own ignorance, managed to offend most of his fanbase. Elsewhere, the taut and tough arrangement on ‘TED Talks’ works excellently against a lyric depicting a man who seems full of his own importance. The track starts slowly and certainly feels like more of a slow burner than most of ‘Pop Up’, but it comes into its own during a brilliant climax where Jim (obviously knowingly) drops into the vocal meter that powered the classic ‘Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere’. It’s so close, in fact, you’d almost expect him to mention “moonshine and firewater” before the track’s end. It’s enough to raise a sly smile from everyone. There are other faint echoes of his past throughout ‘Truce’ (in this case, it’s hard not to be reminded of ‘Granny Farming in The UK) but, musically speaking, there’s a richness in its haunting and repetitive melodies when a very retro, Chris Isaak-esque twang is juxtaposed by a compliment of Christmas bells. A few spins gradually unleashes the kind of thoughtful track that sounds much better than first impressions would have you believe.
Packed with massive riffs and an almost constantly simmering anger, there’s so much to love about this record. Even if a couple of catchier tunes can be found on his previous solo works (sweary teacher, we’re pointing at you), ‘Pop Up Jim Bob’ is easily Mr. Bob’s broadly appealing work since ‘Worry Bomb’. Between some superb lyrics and strong indie influenced melodies, it’s got more than a little of everything a fan could hope for…and more besides.
Read a review of Jim’s live set at Shepherd’s Bush here.
Read Real Gone’s goodbye to Carter USM here.