A fiery five second descending jangle that would have Lee Mavers nodding his approval; a yelp, a holler, a Hammer House of Horror opening verse, the waters break, a delicious Mark E Smith like Scouse rant, “We won’t stop the music”, background whoops and a mesmerising outro. Welcome to the astonishing and quite frankly terrifying opening two minutes of Psycho Comedy’s debut album.
It’s like lead singer Shaun Powell and his merry band of misfits have just said “Fucking have that for starters”. The garage thrash of First Cousin Once Removed summons the ghosts of Iggy and the Stooges had he been (I was going to write ‘brought up’ but I get the impression Shaun Powell makes his own way wherever the hell he wants) raised in Walton L4 as opposed to the far less interesting Muskegon. Two songs in and there hasn’t been a pause for breath.
The weirdness continues when a discombobulating David Lynch-like sonic throb leads into a stomping We Adore You, at which point you realise there hasn’t been a duff second on this astoundingly assured fuck you to the rest of the music world. Matthew Thomas Smith (for it is he spitting out the sardonic staccato stabs of verse that punctuate the album) delivers Island which segues into the sensational Standin, which I had previously considered a likely standout track on the album, but here sits as an equal to all that has gone before. Nevertheless, the raw and dirty bass line punched out by Connor Duff and the 2020 commentary of “The country’s on its arse like the Christian cross” make this a breath-taking song in the thus far impressive Psycho Comedy oeuvre. There’s a hint of Footloose in the opening twang of I’m Numb, but then I don’t think Kenny Loggins ever took drugs “just to say (he) takes them”, and the song is an exercise in letting loose for Jack Thompson (guitar), Lydia McGhee (rhythm) and Jack Williams (drums).
At this juncture it is probably worth mentioning the production by Robert Whiteley which is IN YOUR FACE and LOUD! It sounds like everything is to the fore as the instruments, the singer and the poet are all battling for attention. Halfway through and it possibly one of the most assured and confident British debut albums these ears have heard since…I couldn’t be definite…maybe…
And that is before the furious Sleepwalking enters the fray. It is very much Matthew Thomas Smith’s baby as he delivers an apocalyptic delivery of urban strife with “the sun falling into the ground. JSA being twice a month. It WILL rain. People WILL sleepwalk”, backed by a barrage of bludgeoning bruised beauty. Pick Me Up is the most instant and insistent of the Psycho Comedy singles and the closest thing to pop on the album in the sense that the scuzzy fury that has splattered itself over the rest of the vinyl has retired briefly to recharge its batteries.
No fear because the brilliantly barmy The Hangman is all tempo shifting madness, Shaun sounding like Larry Grayson on the ‘roids as he bellows “Shut that door” repeatedly, before Powell takes a leaf out of Matthew Thomas Smith’s poetry book with his own The Theatre Came Crashing Down. The album’s title track, Performance Space Number One with Harrison-like, sitar-like lines weaving in and out of Powell’s barks and bites as he foresees his death in the titular venue, whilst the guitars bleed along in a stately majestic heartbeat that finally stops…dead.
I am the Silver Screen a staple of the Psycho Comedy live set jangles and chimes, ebbs and flows and then just as Shaun’s lyrics reach their whooping crescendo Matthew Thomas Smith takes over with a rant of alliterative assassination, as guitars drop in and out before then battering the listener into submission and leaving little doubt that this is record of real accomplishment. The closing One has a triumphant and memorable chorus that strides over the vindictive wall of sound (like Phil Spector had he been a mass murderer) that Psycho Comedy have constructed as their own, before tapering out into a mellow surrender that belies the furious racket of the previous forty minutes.
Where to start with a summary? I feel like I need a shower after being subject to the violently sparkling filth that Psycho Comedy have ejaculated all over Performance Space Number One; the dirty gets.
Despite nods to the past (especially in the direction of NYC), Psycho Comedy sound like nothing else you have heard before, and this album is a practically faultless call to arms. The songs are uniquely and abrasively gobsmacking, whilst Robert Whiteley has assisted in bringing the band’s remarkable vision to fruition, and what a harvest it is. They are pop, they are literature they are art and they are fucking ace.
Performance Space Number One has marked Psycho Comedy out as Liverpool’s next great band.