Words by Katherine Priddy / Pics by Sarah Tholin
It is through a haze of naked, tattooed flesh, sweat and Mad Goose that I first remember witnessing Johnny Kowalski & the Sexy Weirdos performing live at the Hare & Hounds, many moons ago.
For those not yet acquainted with Johnny and his band of more than merry men, I am loath to try and confine such wild musical enthusiasm to a genre. However, if pushed, may I dare to draw a loose comparison in their maniacal Balkan and carnival-esque melodies to those of another local favourite, The Destroyers. Perhaps after a few cans of Stella.
It was with both pleasure and apprehension I sat down to listen to the Sexy Weirdo’s long awaited third album – European English, some three years after their last release, Kill the Beast. I say apprehension, as for a band whose live performance exudes so much unadulterated energy, I was curious as to how their songs could be translated effectively to a recording. However, the Sexy Weirdos have created ten stonking tracks that balance order and chaos, tempering them into a cohesive album that still oozes oomph… just a little less perspiration.
Opening track ‘Megahorse’ boots down the doors of the album and sets the tone; instantly commanding, with an aggressive sense of urgency provided by the driving percussion and hysterical woodwind and fiddle. It is the first of many tracks that bully your feet and fingers into tapping along in a bid to keep up.
Other tracks such as ‘Sicilian Silly’un’, which is largely instrumental, possess a stirring marching pace encouraged by Johnny’s primal howls and cymbal crashes, challenging you to dare sit still whilst the music lurches around you. European English strikes a pleasing balance between vocals and instrumentation; at no point does it feel as though one has more importance than the other.
Largely instrumental tracks like ‘Matthew Matthew’ are driven by John Joe Murray on the fiddle, whilst Matthew Osborne’s percussion throbs through the tracks forming the driving force behind ‘Death of a Relative Rude Boy’ and ‘Didn’t Find the Money’. However, Johnny’s vocals steal the show in ‘Serbian Rhumba’, a slower and much sexier track that gives a pleasant respite from the fever of the tracks it follows. His husky tones in combination with the slow drawl of his delivery create a fabulous come-to-bed voice and thus a strangely beautiful but unrefined love song is born.
I couldn’t review European Enlgish without broaching the subject of its title. ‘European’ is, sadly, a now loaded word that has come to embody political unrest and all the unpleasant emotions that accompany that discontent.
However, in his article for Birmingham Review on the making of European English (it really is an album genesis worthy of a feature length film) Johnny maintains that the album is not a statement about the EU. Instead, European English acts as an unabashed celebration of Europe and its vast array of cultures.
With tracks titled ‘Serbian Rhumba’ and ‘Sicilian Silly’un’, the three different cultures and voices placed side by side in ‘Ragga Dub’, and the blend of punk, rock and East European influence that underpins them all, European English is an album that banishes borders and steals shamelessly from various cultures. The political messages focus less on divide and more on everyone being in the same societal boat, be it sinking or floating.
It is worth noting that European English became largely conceived in Josefov, an Austria Hungarian fortress town (seriously, you need to read Johnny’s article). The album bears tangible traces of its naissance within those thick walls that fortify an untouchable corner of Europe. On listening to an album that so overtly celebrates the diversity of our continent, I can almost imagine I am entering into a last bastion that stays immune to cultural divide and the political tumult battering at the doors outside. Within its ten track walls is a perfect piece of Europe – multifarious, rebellious, debauched and fierce.
But you’ll have to listen to it yourself to decide. So divest yourself of your stresses, to-do lists and clothes, grab whatever strong spirits you have to hand and enter the Sexy Weirdo’s very own refuge for disenchanted Europeans.
‘Megahorse’ – Johnny Kowalski & the Sexy Weirdos
Johnny Kowalski & the Sexy Weirdos release their third studio album, European English, on 22nd September. For more on Johnny Kowlaski & the Sexy Weirdos, visit www.sexyweirdos.bandcamp.com