March 6, 2020 Cornershop – England Is a Garden (Album Review)
In the glitter and glamour of ’90s Britpop, a few bands stood out for the Indian-inspired Psychedelic sensibilities of their respective music; in particular, Kula Shaker (“Govinda”), Space (“Female of the Species”), and the more authentic Cornershop, speaking of which has just released its ninth offering.
Formed in 1991, in Leicester, England, Cornershop made its presence in the Cool Britannia scene, which was the toast of ’90s English music, via its quirky and infectious, chart-topping single “Brimful of Asha”–from the band’s third album, 1997’s When I Was Born for the 7th Time. This was followed by four albums more–from 2002’s Handcream for a Generation, featuring guitar contributions from Noel Gallagher of Oasis (“Don’t Look Back in Anger”); to 2015’s Hold On It’s Easy – a re-styled re-recording of Cornershop’s debut full-length, 1994’s Hold On It Hurts.
And now, the exotically exciting band–consisting of founders Tjinder Singh (vocals, guitar, bass, dholki) and Ben Ayres (guitar, tamboura, keyboards, tambourine, vocals) and Nick Simms (drums, vocals), Peter Bengry (percussion), Adam Blake (sitar, guitar), Pete Downing (guitar), and James Milne (bass)–has unleashed again another record, titled England Is a Garden.
Released on Friday, March 6, 2020, via Ample Play Records, England Is a Garden is a dozen-track affair inspired by Singh’s Black Country upbringing and driven by his and bandmate Ayres’s love of Glam Rock, Psychedelic Rock, and Punjabi Folk/Pop. As usual, the enduring duo with their bandmates are able to infuse into Modern Rock the rustic and traditional vibes of Raga Psychedelia–something that was, after all, done before by some of their icons and obvious influences, such as The Beatles (“Here Comes the Sun”), Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd (“Arnold Layne”), and Echo & the Bunnymen (“Prove Me Wrong”).
English Is a Garden opens with the energetic and thumping, black-boots beat and Hammond-organ drone of “St. Marie under Canon.” This is followed by the suburban, metallic, and folky aberration such as “Slingshot.” The sharp fuzziness continues with “No Rock: Save in Roll,” which thickens the plot and the texture with its Gospel/choral backing vocals and Classic Rock guitar angularity.
With “Everywhere That Wog Army Roam,” Cornershop returns the listener to the playful and tuneful side of its sonic fence. And then after the short trumpet call of “King Kongs,” Singh and ensemble launch into another smile-pulling, clarinet-led, Punjab/Hindustani-flavored track called “Highly Amplified.”
The title-track is a short tabla-heavy instrumental that very well illustrates what the piece is all about–swings, slides, serenity, bird chirps, and flowers of various shades and hues. “The Cash Money” then builds up from this cyclical rhythm; almost hypnotic and alluring with its guitar wahs and bluesy sitar interludes. The tiny piano ditty “Morning Ben” then preludes the good ol’ Rock -n-Roll slant of “I’m a Wooden Soldier,” combining Garage Rock and Space Electronica in a weirded out concoction.
Saving the couple of best for last, Cornershop then replicates the shimmery psychedelia of its ’90s Britpop glory days with the catchy “One Careful Lady Owner, which may be regarded as the album’s highlight. Finally, Singh and Ayres and comrades close their latrsrshop perfectly with the stellar Brit/Raga Pop song “The Holy Name,” which conjures images of busy Indian marketplaces bustling with pedestrian shoppers, cornershop vendors, snake charmers, Hindu-shrine pilgrims, and young and old buskers armed with sarangi, dilruba, mridangam, and other traditional instruments.
According to Singh, more than 30 years have passed since Cornershop’s inception with nine full-length albums to boot, but he still feels like the same outsider especially when his recent visit to his little hometown in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, made him realize that nothing much has changed. And this is what continually gives his band’s music the provocative nature, both musically and lyrically. Add to that, of course, his Indian ancestry, which gave him the tendency to embrace his being different and to resist being dubbed as common. Cornershop’s new record is another successful display of all these. That is why Cryptic Rock gives England Is a Garden 4 out of 5 stars.