I was one of a lucky few who heard the songs from On The Stoop‘s new album Home previewed at a Redfern house concert a few weeks back. The room was tiny, the band sounded big; leader/writer Serge Stanley‘s cinematic musical vision made the Redfern lounge room grow outwards and upwards: now it was a Leone desert, now a jumping Juarez cantina, now a noir cityscape, now a Balkan wedding.

Back in 2015 I wrote that On The Stoop were “my new favourite Zappa-flavoured, Spaghetti Western, gypsy-eyed, banjo powered, 1920’s/2040’s, Newtown, Balkan wedding band” in my review of their debut On The Stoop. That still goes – Home is a delight.

On-The-Stoop-State-Trooper

As with On The Stoop, one is almost too busy chuckling at Stanley’s wry observations on the mess we have got ourselves into as a tribe, to appreciate the devilishly clever and cleverly delicious compositions, arrangements and performances Serge and the band deliver. On The Stoop is peopled with some of Sydney’s brighter sparks, such as drummer Tim Bradley, guitarist Dirk Kruitof and the remarkable Ellen Kirkwood, so the band can realise anything Stanley throws at them. on the stoop home 1

Check the sarcastic Dixieland of ‘The Political Song’ – “I don’t care for your politics/ or the hair growing out your nose” – which follows the future-imperfect rocker ‘In-tense’ (a gold star to saxophonist Matthew Lee for the magnificent skronk solo).

The Mexicali foxtrot of ‘One Trick Pony’ made me happy, then sad because it brought to mind dear departed Ry Cooder, then happy again with guest vocalist Angela Rosero‘s tart and sexy Spanish rap. The Mexican groove pops up again in the sardonic mariachi of ‘Friends’ – ‘Friends like the friends of Julius Caesar’ (while I am handing out gold stars, another one goes to Ellen Kirkwood’s backing vocal on this track and across the entire album). The surprising codas of both ‘Friends’ and the reggae ‘Water Revisited’ leap out as strident movie themes which had me strapping on my six-guns, so portentous were they.

On an album of surprises, a surprise cover of – of all things – Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘State Trooper’ glides menacingly along on a hammering punk highway, giving Kruitof licence to rock and roll in an acidly dissonant way, and Stanley to get his 70’s cop show groove on with the horns. It is so wrong it is righteously right.

Stanley’s ear for contemporary media buzzwords and vernacular Ocker-isms illuminates his satirical writing and saves it from becoming anything close to mere po-faced putdown. Often the satire is hilarious, as in the greasily lascivious ‘Get Your End In’ – “I ain’t no Vincent de Paul/You ain’t not Mother Teresa/So what you waiting for?/You get your end in…”

The album leaves us with the sweet horn chorale of ‘Zulu Sierra Foxtrot’ – a tune maybe for the funeral of a friend, or maybe of an idea, or of the death of goodness in a society. Serge Stanley thinks about his world and its foibles, and makes music that is smart yet fun. You can still think while you shake your moneymaker to his mariachi – maybe, in a Trump world, there is nothing better than that.

 

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