I must admit to having never listened to John MOuse before this album - not that I’d actively avoided his music, rather it’s somehow eluded me until this point. Listening to The Death of John MOuse, you can understand why the Welsh eccentric’s music isn’t on the roll of everybody’s tongue though, as it is quite the odd collection, even within the margins of just this one (his fourth) studio record. It’s by no means a slur on the experience therein, rather a comment on arguably conformist listening habits of those in charge of what consumers are led to hear. His music is quite rebellious in its formation, made up of spoken word pieces set to small orchestras chirruping behind him, conflicted by bouncy indie pop dancefloor fodder, with some rough edges and scuffed interiors. It’s the kind of music you need introducing to rather than overhearing, so while it’s not crossed my headphones before, this certainly makes a remarkable 33-minute debut.
Much like some comparably restless acts such as Eels or Beck, the impatient pinging between back-of-the-schoolbus indie sing-alongs, such as that on the Los Campesinos!-collaborated album opener “I Was A Goalkeeper”, and boniness of its succeeding “Those Two Blokes From ABBA”, immediately suggest John MOuse is something of a playful character. They set the haphazard tone for The Death of John MOuse well. “Your Funny Little Ways” is more of the fizzy guitars and slack-jawed 00’s disco that would have been blasted out of The Inbetweeners’ shitty yellow car back in the day, as much in line with a Welsh Weezer as “That’s Just The Way Our Love Is” could have been a Pulp or late (or should that be very recent?) Suede number. But then there’s those edges again, the subtle ideas left a little casually at the curb which abrade any polish from it, in the same way that The Magnetic Fields offer a foretaste of a song for the listener to complete.
At no other time is that a truer approach than in “Robbie Savage” and “Once Upon A Time In Ynysmaerdy”, both oddly crooned songs that are lyrically hyper-personal to the point of alienation, but in that so beautiful, so inviting and because of it so adorable. Both songs lay something out there, and both have a gulping melody which are complete enough to stand this record up alone, but each take precarious turns into oblivion, blurring their veneer into emotionally scatterbrained thoughts. At times this album is dazzlingly big-band camp with trumpets and howls, at others it’s Mark E Smith settling into a comfy chair in a shit pub, and it does both angles so well you don’t realize you’re actually viewing it on multi-screen. Comparing one verse to Patrick Wolf and then a chorus to Howard Devoto it thrills you slightly when you put the jigsaw together a beat or two later and realize it’s a picture of Zelda Rubinstein giving you the middle finger.
The record is summed up in it’s centrepiece “Happy I Am Not” which is an impeccable rip-off of the internet’s “Being A Dickhead’s Cool” and a Smiths-ish, very non-London gibberish, as though the Manic Street Preachers did a Comic Relief song, complete with the hook “even Arsenal’s early exit from the Champions League couldn’t make me happy”. It’s stupid but works, as does The Death of John MOuse in its entirety. It’s arty and not afraid of whopping melodies, with hooky, guitar-headlining choruses that The Enemy wouldn’t shy away from, taken broadly could feature heavily on a new wave compilation alongside Elvis Costello or The Replacements.