BABYBIRD - KING OF NOTHING ALBUM REVIEW (NAKED 001)


For the last six or seven years Stephen Jones (AKA Babybird) has released his music almost exclusively through the Bandcamp platform. At last count (earlier today!) there were 86 releases associated to the Babybird monikor alone, making Mr Jones one of the most prolific recording artists currently operating on the planet. People often talk about Bob Pollard’s Herculean songwriting output for American indie icons Guided By Voices but make no mistake, Stephen Jones is very much up there when it comes to making brilliant music. And lots of it.

Over the past few years I’ve dipped in and out of the growing Babybird Bandcamp catalogue and always enjoyed what I heard. Stephen’s winning way with a pop melody is pretty much common knowledge to most of us who have followed his career from those early pre-You’re Gorgeous days, as is his ability to write both withering and beautiful lyrics-often in the same song. Indeed, there’s a duality going on throughout much of the Babybird output that any psychoanalyst worth their salt would surely love to get their hands on. But that’s not the whole picture, because, you know what? Over the course of the last few years I’ve come to fully realise and appreciate what an utterly brilliant and recognisable singing voice Stephen has. He is surely one of the most underrated vocalists operating in indie music, his vocals soaring between the emotional and the disgusted, both in love and in hate. Again, often at the very same time…

In 2017, Babybird started uploading songs and snippets from the as-then unreleased King of Nothing album sessions. Or maybe he was just on a roll and the project was growing like an unattended garden. Of course, in this particular garden there were no weeds, only great songs. And so it continued over the next couple of years whilst many other Babybird releases came to the surface, almost as if King of Nothing was having to fight for its right to get finished. It’s quite possible that songs control and dictate a great deal of Stephen Jones’ waking hours, and like the Neil Young’s and Bob Dylan’s of this world, the artist simply becomes a conduit for something other that hovers just out of view. Whatever the reason for the albums’ considerable (by Babybird standards) gestation period, King of Nothing finally made its full debut on Bandcamp in September 2020. It was at this precise point that I bought and immediately fell in love with it. Lockdown had never sounded so good.

In mid 2021, when the NAKED Record club was beginning to become a reality, I contacted Stephen with the idea of making King of Nothing our very first release. We had a long discussion about his music (spoiler alert: if all goes to plan there will be other Babybird albums appearing on NAKED) and to my utter surprise, the good man agreed to us bringing King of Nothing to the world of NAKED vinyl. In fact, the more we spoke about it the more enthusiastic he became and we couldn't have hoped for a better ambassador for our first release.

Of course, the 2020 Bandcamp version of King of Nothing was/is slightly different to the one the album that NAKED is now bringing to the world.  There was an abundance of great material not included on the Bandcamp King of Nothing and Stephen very graciously gave us permission to use my two favourite tracks from the outtakes.We're sure you'll agree that Blood Money and Happiest Girl are stunning additions to the record.

Now, one year later, here we are poised and ready to unleash. The first ever vinyl press of this fantastic album comes on non-toxic and recyclable white vinyl with two new tracks added to side two. We have designed exclusive sleeve artwork from  images supplied by Stephen and very soon, King of Nothing deliveries will  begin. Click here to buy NOW.

Here’s NAKED's review of our very first release - BABYBIRD - KING OF NOTHING (NAKED 001)

King of Nothing begins with the astonishing Feel. Part imaginary James Bond soundtrack, part Berlin-era David Bowie lullaby, Feel is rooted in something very special, a melancholic trip down the back alleys of the nineteen-seventies looking for something that no longer exists. It’s a jaw-dropping entry point and obviously one of Stephen Jones’ best songs. Ever. Fleeting flecks of strings wrap around those honeyed, pleading vocals, building, building, building. And then it ends. And you need to hear it again. Quickly.

The Greatest Thing has the unenviable job of following Feel on this album, but it copes admirably. Imagine Stephen Jones on a night out with Happy Mondays, dancing in the darkest corner of the nightclub. Loved-up and swaggering Greatest Thing segues into another Babybird classic that goes by the name of Vacuous. If it had been possible, NAKED would have made this the lead-off single from King of Nothing and enjoyed the ensuing video performance from Stephen Jones. Lyrically cute and ridiculously catchy, Vacuous is what Stephen Jones does so well, namely celebrating the fucked-up nature located right at the core of the human condition. Once heard never forgotten, trust me you’ll be singing Vacuous in the shower. A scratchy guitar riff heralds in Three Little Words, a doomed love song searching for redemption it will never find. It’s Babybird reimagined as an old Blues singer, complete with neat musical licks and a simple ‘I love You’ vocal hook. Fairly bullied out of the way by the record’s title track, King of Nothing is the album lynchpin, equivalent to Roy Keen as the beating heart of the United defence, the strongest song in a team of winners. It’s OK, Stephen supports Man U. Lyrically smart and spat out like a bastardized ghetto rap, ‘working class zero tattooed on my skin’ says a lot with the minimum of fuss. Side one closes with the raw sadness of In The Place of Love, a song rooted in those wonderfully naïve teenage moments before life turns ugly and gets real.

Side two begins sprightly with "Hey, here’s some comfort for those who think they might be insane" which was reassuring to hear during all that Covid madness. Indeed, Demons, Demons, Demons is a great piece of Pandemic pop, a fat fuzz bass and children’s nursery rhyme mash-up. Love/Life returns us to the Babybird piano stool where a yearning love song unfolds in typical Stephen Jones fashion and delivered by that stunning set of emotive vocal pipes. By the time the song finishes there’s not a dry eye in the house. Blood Money is one of two additional tracks exclusive to the NAKED version of King of Nothing and follows Love/Life with its tasty blend of mutant disco and easy listening backing vocals. Not to mention some fine, deranged piano zipping about in the back of the mix. Which brings us to the devastating Happiest Girl, again not featuring on the Bandcamp album, but surely another of Stephen Jones’ best songs ever. Set against more plaintive lyrics and rippling piano notes, heartstrings are tugged and eventually torn out of the chest courtesy of another brilliant vocal display, whilst fireworks light up the ink-black night sky as the song fades to grey.

Ending with the quietly uplifting and positive Bad Feeling we’re reminded once again of Babybird’s never faltering talent for detailing life in all its many facets. Of course life isn’t always bright and shiny. Some of it is beautiful and some of it is ugly. And, at his best, so is Stephen Jones. King of Nothing is a brilliant album made by one of The UK’s finest songwriters. And now it’s available on non-toxic recyclable white vinyl. Whilst we wouldn’t recommend that you bury it in the garden at any point, you could consider taking it with you on into the next world…

Look out for a revealing Q&A interview session with Stephen Jones, coming soon. I can't wait to ask the man what makes him tick. If you haven’t already signed up for a copy of King of Nothing be sure to do so straight away. NAKED will only manufacture 500 numbered Limited Edition copies so don’t miss out!

Simon Parker

NAKED HQ, France, June 5th 2022.

CLICK HERE TO BUY 'KING OF NOTHING'

 


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