Published on 21st May 2015
Tom Slatter – Fit The Fourth
When I first heard of Tammy Slater I thought: “Hmmm”.
For most of her day Tammy is high on a cocktail of Baby Bio and diet pills from the 1950s.
At night she drags herself by her tentacles through the blanket of ooze that she lays down before her on the road; her constant soft, eerie moaning occasionally rising to an excited and blood-curdling scream as she encounters her prey.
It takes time to track her down but it is said that the horror of those screams, once heard, is like the muse to a creative madness that lies dormant in even the most seemingly talentless individual.
As a talentless individual, I spent the most indifferent and non-existent of April nights on record roaming the streets of Stockwell, South London, hunting for this mythical beast. The prize? A record of her noises as she wraps her tentacles around spare vagrants and sewer rats and drags them, screaming, back to her lair.
I hunted down Tammy Slater and successfully recorded her molesting several tramps and training her Sewer Rat Quartet. Ever heard a rat scream? It was no fun but the collection of screams have indeed inspired new works.
There is a story of unrequited love; ‘Several Of The Plants in London Zoo Have Had Pots Broken By That Clumsy Old Labrador from Room 118’. Then there’s ‘Men Without Underwear’, an epic three and a half hour progressive rock epic that narrates the epic tale of Orpheus as he charms his way, epically, in and out of the underpants of epic young men in ancient and epic Mesopotamia. There are always surprises in store in this, my epic new concept album, ‘Fool Thy Faith’.
Then I find out that Tom Slatter has a new album called Fit The Fourth. Or did I already know? Yes. I did. That’s what inspired me to go off on one, really.
This is not Tom’s first album, but it is his debut collection of songs with Bad Elephant Music, having signed to them recently. There are some interesting ingredients here. Bad Elephant and Tom Slatter, we have a recipe for cake. A Good Music cake.
Like the Bad Elephant says:-
“Tom weaves complex and fantastical stories throughout his music and this new album is no different. Dark deeds and dangerous characters litter the narrative, including the continuing tale of Seven Bells John. The story of this menacing character and the vivid steampunk world he inhabits has been interwoven throughout Tom’s music from his first appearance on Slatter’s debut album Spinning The Compass. With Fit the Fourth, John’s journey comes full circle with his eventual fate revealed in twenty-minute epic, Seven Bells Redeemed.”
Yeah. They say all that. I say Good Music Cake. That’s why I get the number of big bucks that I get for these reviews.
I’ve listened to Tom Slatter’s music and spent time trying to cross-refer it with music and artists that I’ve heard before. This is because you need a common frame of reference in a review. How else does one interest people in a piece of music, using mostly words, if it isn’t by comparison? So I find that citing superficial and lazy similarities to other stuff is a good substitute for proper research.
It also would be lazy of me to copy what other people have said about Dr. Who and Steam Punk but I’m sure that you will follow the links below and read them for yourself if I have, in any way, captured your interest.
I could say Tom is like a sinister Bill Bailey – The Anti-Bill – I bet Tom will hate that. But comparison is sometimes cheap and always inadequate. In this instance it really is as cheap as the noises from a sick caged bird and as inadequate as a railway tunnel made of butter. So I’ll not say that. Don’t read that again.
So what are the main things you need to know about Tom’s new album? I’m going to hi-jack Tom’s album’s title for this.
Thing the First: It is the product of originality of approach. I don’t know of any other artists doing music like this. I’m not expanding on this Thing. That should be Thing the Enough, already.
If “musicality” is actually a word, and I assure you it is, this is Thing the Second. Tom mixes up styles, a bit, to give this music all the necessary dimensions for a good listen.
Sometimes this music is intimate and pulls you inside the Worlds that Tom has created. Sometimes it borders on symphonic.
The music is idiosyncratic and deceptively complex but always engaging.
You want a good rock-out guitar riff? – Littered with them.
Do you like to find yourself whistling a tune from your recently purchased album? Done!
Do you like soundscapes? WOLLOP – All over the shop!
Do you like ambient music? BOOM! (Maybe “boom” isn’t the best way to announce ambient music). Tom can do that as well. So Far From The Shore is a bit of an ambient soundscape at first!
If Littered with Done, WOLLOP, BOOM! isn’t enough to get your attention, I don’t know what is!
Thing The Third: This album is replete with subtle, understated yet deceptively and technically proficient musicianship, all wrapped up and presented as an album. Nerds like us like good musicianship. Tom’s a multi-instrumentalist but he doesn’t harp on about what he can play or what his instruments are. That appeals to me. Tom’s guitaring is especially enjoyable. What Tom does is deceptively good because it isn’t ostentatious. He knows how to create moods and he often uses odd time signatures. But these techniques don’t seem to be used simply to show how clever Tom is. That’s pretty clever in itself. To support this observation, listen to the beautiful, understated guitars in Men Of The World.
Thing The Fourth is the biggie; Tom is a story-teller. Tom has a penchant for miscellany. It is a theme running through all the albums. In common with folk music, the stories are the essence of this music. The timbre of Tom’s vocal also lends itself to comparison to folk singers I have heard in Irish pubs, but musically the songs probably belong firmly in the realms of Progressive Rock. The folk comparison ends there. Thematically these songs have more in common with the more surreal peak of the Gabriel/Genesis era than the hedgerow-sprite-and-barnyard rock of Jethro Tull.
The range of stories and their genres should be sufficient to satisfy anyone with a taste for progressive rock and the hankering for a good yarn. Tom has picked genre fruit from the category orchard of his imagination and this musical fruit salad is made up of Sci-Fi horror, violent thrillers and nautical fantasy. So not only is this Good Music Cake but you can have it with a fruit salad.
These are not the dry, regurgitated stories of a limited imagination, full to the brim of the re-hashed subject matter used by some of his contemporaries. For example, told with humour and wit, Some Of The Creatures Have Broken The Locks On The Door To Lab 558 is a good story to start with. If this is the first ever Tom Slatter album you have heard then you might pick up a Stephen King/Half-Life vibe, a merging of the atmosphere of a Sci-Fi Horror and the eerie monster infested world from the 1990s First Person Shooter game. You can imagine the venom burning through the wires. Well, I can. And because I have heard the whole album I can also imagine people in their oily graves.
Is that Fit The Fourth Thing the Fourth? I’ve lost count. How many Fit The Fourth Things do you need, you people?
More? You’re insatiable! Here are some other things thrown in. I tire of pasting in the text “Thing the …” and I am limited by my ability to count above four:
As alluded to earlier, there’s the concept of Seven Bells John, carried forward from previous albums.
I like the soap opera concept of the concept; instead of having a concept album that tells a story through all or most of the tracks on an album Tom has done told this story episodically over a few albums. The rock-opera trial of the snappily entitled The Steam Engine Murders And The Trial Of Seven Bells John even ends on a cliff-hanger. The title of track 5 does suggests rescue from the cliff from which we were left hanging so precariously. Tom already let the cat out of the bag about this being the conclusion to Seven Bells John’s story, but this is about the journey he takes you on.
Spreading a tale over several albums is a simple but effective idea. I’m surprised that it isn’t a common approach, perhaps it is. Please feel free to highlight my lack of music knowledge by sending in examples of this on the usual stamped addressed envelope. Perhaps Peter Gabriel’s early “albums as magazine covers” concept vaguely resembles the same basic idea but Tom has taken this concept inside the cover and done it with music, not the album’s artwork. More on this concept at Tom’s Website.
In conclusion; that’s my album release knackered, then!
At least I now have an Oyster Card which, I have discovered, is not anything to do with sea food. More to the point, I had an absolute blast listening to this album and writing this review. Having been brought up on a diet of Progressive Rock, these songs are not so outlandish that they alienate me. Quite the opposite.
Fit The Fourth inspired some proper wittering on my part and was hugely enjoyable, to boot.
Would I buy this album? Surely that is too apparent to be doubted!
01. Some Of The Creatures Have Broken The Locks On The Door To Lab 558 (7:29)
02. The Steam Engine Murders And The Trial Of Seven Bells John (10:22)
03. Men Of The World (7:14)
04. So Far From The Shore (8:56)
05. Seven Bells Redeemed (20:21)
Total Time – 54:22
All music and lyrics by Tom Slatter
Mixed, engineered and produced by Tom Slatter
All instruments and vocals by Tom Slatter except:
Jordan Brown – Bass (Tracks 1 & 4)