It was a couple of Byron Bay Bluesfests ago when I came across Glenn Cardier again. Seeing his name up, I had made a point of checking him and his crack band, The Sideshow in one of the smaller festival venues. I’m glad I did – apart from being up close to the band (I am quickly losing enthusiasm for the huge tents and screens), I was mesmerised by Cardier, in pork pie and shades, front and centre, growling his strange songs, his acoustic guitar driving the band and the crowd.
I had been a fan in the 70s. Glenn Cardier always stood out to me, seemingly of a different tribe than the grizzled ‘young fogeys’ who made up the singer-songwriters of the times. Apart from the freak-cabaret whiff of his bowler hat, Lennon specs and waistcoat, his songs seemed wryly funny, yet dark. And always entirely original.
After seemingly bobbing up on every festival bill and touring the world with that other existential jester, Spike Milligan, Cardier retired for 25 years. In early 2002 he returned to low key gigs, and now has given us his fifth album since his 21st century resurrection, Cool Under Fire.
Recorded almost entirely by himself, with the help of some heavy friends such as Sideshow (and everywhere else) guitarist, Rex Goh and country darlin’ Catherine Britt, Cool Under Fire is a rich helping of what we love about Cardier. The songs are wry and droll, many illuminated with a cinematic glare or dark-street noir. The humour is there – the hilarious pulp detective ‘A Case of Mistaken Identity’ and the everyman-Elvis of ‘Impersonation of The King’; a lot of it, of course, dark and world-weary, such as ‘Cold Light of Day’ (a Weimar gypsy lurch, tipsy as Kurt Weill).
There are the Pop smarts that raise a writer like Cardier above many of his genre: ‘Win Some, Lose Some’ is loaded with hooks and the harmony of ‘Welcome Home, Johnny-Oh’ is a darker shade of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. And of course, commensurate with Cardier’s novelistic approach to lyric, there is romance – the romance of rock’n’roll with its cars (gotta be Cadillacs, Jim), sexual heat and girls girls girls (‘She had bumper-bullets that would do a Cadillac proud‘) but also sweet, everyday romance of the sort that keeps your average, jobbing muso existential jester going.
‘The Day I Fell In Love With You’ is perhaps one of the loveliest, most unadorned love songs I have heard for a long time. Here, Cardier reminds me (not for the first time on they album) of the late American singer Warren Zevon. Cardier, like Zevon’s in his tender moments, is happy to drop artifice and cleverness if something needs to be said plain and simple. This country simple approach raises a smile in ‘Loretta’ and lifts the heart in ‘Rise and Shine’ – a song of hope.
But it wouldn’t be Glenn Cardier if he didn’t leave us with a wink, and a shadow-play and maybe a twinge of loss. ‘The Last Jukebox’ seems set in a post-civilisation Mad-Maxscape, all dust and empty desert winds. It seems dark, listless – with all hope fading out to a pale glimmer. And yet:
“Only one thing left to do –,
Only one thing left to do –,
Come on now, come over here,
It’s gonna be alright –,
Only one thing left to do.
Cool Under Fire is released 1 August 2016.
For more information go to www.glenncardier.com