Jim Bob - School

George Bass 03/04/2006

Rating: 4/5

Remember the days in the old school yard? We used to laugh a lot, don't you remember? Liar liar pants on fire. If you hear the word 'school' and think of twenty-five-a-side games of playground footy, trying to write texts under your desk on the sly or toilet tissue that contravenes the trades descriptions act then this record is for you. Indie chameleon Jim Bob has trained his wiley eye on the happiest days of your life for his latest LP, and in the hands of a man who's got more variety in his musical back-catalogue than Kellogg's have in their popular breakfast assortment, you know you're going to be in for a treat.

The album tells the story of a school orchestra whose headquarters face imminent league relegation; a place where ASBOs get passed round like headlice and teachers dream of caning the lippy kid. These tales unfold against a backdrop of woodwind, glockenspiels and biro-graffiti'd drumskin to produce a highly original record that is nothing short of brilliant. Anyone with reservations about rose-tinted Belle And Sebastian fey will be relieved to know that Jim's grip on the gripes of modern life remains firmly undiluted as he dissects the intricacies of five sevenths of your childhood.

Opening gambit The First Big Concert Of The Orchestra has got house music (not that kind) written all over it, and is so authentically end of term that you're probably not allowed to video it for fear of a witchhunt. Xylophones chime and tambourines rattle as Mr Bob sets the scene for what's in store ('We got drums, we got bells, we got woodwind, we got brass / You can DJ if you want to, we're not stuck in the past'). This is followed by the breezy Back To School; a fantastic piece of singalong acoustic and an Urban Spaceman for anyone who's ever been happy-slapped, bundled or bogwashed.

Jim's sense of humour shines through on Mrs Fucking MacMurphy, which introduces us to a mardy-arsed food technology teacher with a gob on her that'd make even Gordon Ramsay wince. The swaying melody acts as a solid platform for the more-than-capable backing musicians, who include the likes of Chris T-T and former Carter USM sidekick Fruitbat doing their bit for the cause throughout the album. On Storm In The Staff Room brass instruments add a peripheral spice to the music, while the lyrics explore the theory that the choice you make between history and geography at the end of year nine is what separates a Mr Chips from a Demon Headmaster.

The latter songs on the album showcase Jim's eloquent capacity for pathos, and reward the listener's attention with a lot more than housepoints and funsize Mars Bars. String-tinged piano ballad The Headmaster's Song gently peels back its titular character's layers of tweed to reveal the human heart underneath, as he yearns for quiet respite in the arms of his wife. Perhaps not such a demon after all then. The tension starts to simmer during the climbing piano urgency of The Mufty Day Riots - the story of a delinquent ruck as a result of sportswear label elitism - before reaching a defiant climax on The School Is Not The Building (It's The Children). Nuff said.

There are very few musicians today with the originality to undertake a project like this, let alone pull it off, but Jim is not an artist who has ever really bowed to voguish convention. School is a sublime addition to his revered CV (made up of a smorgasbord of beatbox punk, disco jingles, acoustic twee and most recently - if you believe the rumours - the Arctic Monkeys), and a concept album so compulsory that your mum'll go to court if you don't give it a spin. Fainites.