White Town – Peek & Poke

I’ve written before about White Town‘s post-Your Woman work, but never about Peek & Poke (2000), his first release after flirting briefly with a major record label in 1997 and becoming, pretty much literally, a one-hit wonder. It’s been a long time since I last listened to it, but hearing it again makes me think that it might actually be among his best works.

It starts with the 1998 single Another Lover, a charming piece of lo-fi pop which is probably deceptively complicated, but it seems to essentially consist of a bass part, some piano chords, drums and percussion, and a couple of vocal tracks. It’s sweet, rather silly, and a lot of fun.

The pace and the mood both change somewhat with Why I Hate Drugs, an appopriately downbeat and sombre piece. As is occasionally the case with White Town, I’m not actually sure how much I like it, but he does at least always have something interesting to say. This isn’t true for Duplicate, which is assuredly brilliant. The vocal effects work wonderfully over another simplistic backing track. It’s hardly contemporary – even for fifteen years ago – but it does have a certain timeless charm.

A more daft moment follows with Every Second Counts, hiding somewhere in the gap between TV game show theme (which White Town‘s Jyoti Mishra had been recording for years in his spare time), sport coverage music, and pop song, it turns out to be a lot of fun. At the end, it mixes into the rather bitter Anyway, a catchy guitar-driven song.

The largely acoustic In My Head is another fun song which is basically about jealousy, again with a catchy chorus. Peek & Poke is essentially pop music at its purest – the sound isn’t the most polished ever, but the sentiments are strong and the melodies are catchy.

Unfortunately a couple of tracks spoil it a bit – I can almost see the point in Bunny Boiler, but it shouldn’t really be here. At best, it spoils the mood after everything that came before it – at worst, it’s dreadful. Fortunately it doesn’t last long before the best track on the album turns up, the lovely She Left for Paris, a sad song full of regrets for an extended date in France which ends up with the girl falling for the city but not the protagonist. Life, apparently, has its ups and downs.

The short instrumental Theme for Alan Mathison Turing, in honour of the now pardoned and celebrated father of Computer Science follows, a pleasant instrumental interlude before a rhythmic short song called I’m Alone, and then we’re on to a particularly weird song called The Story of My Life. It’s essentially the tale of somebody looking back at their life, but it’s the odd instrumentation which makes it both charming and a little jarring too. The second half of the song is a prog rock-style continuation, as the song gradually gets more and more electronic.

As Bunny Boiler demonstrated, there are some slightly questionable decisions on here (Jyoti Mishra is, it seems, only human), and the closing track Excerpts from an Essay is an example of this. Let’s be clear: it’s by no means bad. It does last thirteen minutes, but musically it’s generally interesting enough. It’s just a little difficult to know how and when you would ever listen to it, as a robotic voice drones through what is not, unless you are a student of socialism or hip hop, the most interesting essay ever written. We’re not here to mark it, and honestly it’s well written from an academic standpoint, but a pop album is not really where it belongs.

Still, White Town is a one-man band, and he can, of course, do whatever he likes. It’s probably fair to say he might benefit from an editor now and then, but nonetheless, Peek & Poke is still an extremely enjoyable album. Which should be reason enough to track it down.

The CD and download versions of Peek & Poke are widely available, or you could grab it from Bandcamp, where the proceeds all go directly to the artist.

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