The Vichy Government - White Elephant

Ed James 21/07/2008

Rating: 4/5

Even by The Vichy Government's characteristic standards of misanthropy, "White Elephant" is an exercise in styled sourness.

"Death of a Mummy's Boy" opens proceedings, an eight-minute account of its narrator's final hour before suicide and first few moments as a ghost, set only to the noise of a ticking clock. The sang froid of Jamie Manners' vocal delivery renders this chilling in the extreme, which joins Rhoda Dakar's 1982 hit "The Boiler" as a song that I'm sure I'll hear only once but, in that single listen, will have claimed a measure of my human spirit for its own.

The mood doesn't lighten. This Belfast Mephistopheles presents to us a world in which men fabricate tales of childhood abuse for a literary career, social Darwinists explain the anthropoligical benefits of AIDS, mail-order brides are held under lock and key and all hues of love are an impossibility - but no one gets to learn necromancy here.

There's no catharsis, even on the numbers where Andrew Chilton's keyboards produce something resembling a danceable synthpop melody or there's a shred of pitch-black humour (the image of Sandie Shaw as a Taliban executioner, for instance.) Part of me longs for the moments of comparative levity offered by earlier favourites such as "Rubbish" and "I Control Discourse." Part of me feels that Manners and Chilton are laying it on with trowels. But then part of me knows that this is the duo's very essence - to condense all earthly horror and hypocrisy into three-minute arrangements for Yamaha and voice.

In a world in which the floppy goon from Art Brut is considered a raconteur because he's trying to grow a moustache, articulate songwriters like these shouldn't stint from exposing us to the bile that seems to run in their veins. Plenty of records have subjected listeners to "sonic assault" but few, if any, have attempted to render lyrical or conceptual nastiness on quite such a grand scale.