If Steampunk aesthetics are increasingly recognisable across alternative culture and beyond, the definition of a steamy sound can still be debated. Cog ’n’ copper-clad Goth, industrial, prog and world music acts have all adopted the tag, and in a subculture fond of transplanting technology and historical figures from their own era to another, all interpretations are valid. None are quite so literal though as that offered by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, a band formed to “put the ‘punk’ into steampunk”, after finding the existing scene missing, literally, the most obvious trick. Armed with the DIY sounds and spirit of 1977, The Men went back to a future imagined in the fiction of 1877 to come up with their 2010 debut, triumphantly titled ’Now That’s What I Call Steampunk! Vol 1’.
The clue this wouldn’t be the end of their assault on commonly accepted chronology is right there, and a second volume of anachronistic history lessons is now set for release on March 12th. ‘This May Be The Reason Why The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed By Conventional Weapons’, comes with an even more tongue-twisting title than its predecessor, and even more musical and historical scope. Within its 36 minute runtime, 19th century politics meet the protest song (‘Doing It For The Whigs’), a family meet Cthulu while on a trip to the beach, in a death metal / Cockney musichall mash-up (‘Margate Fhtagn’) and Prince Albert returns to meet his wife after death (‘Victoria’s Secret’). The Men… like to brand it a blend of “Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Watson, doctored history and Doctor Who”, but seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy is just as correct when, in the spoken introduction he provides to the album, he proclaims what follows to be “all of history, one song at a time”.
The extraordinary gents with whom McCoy finds himself in league on ‘This May Be The Reason…’ are Andrew O’Neill (vocals / guitar), Andy Heintz (vocals / musical saw), Marc Burrows (bass) and Jez Miller (drums). While Heintz paid his musical dues fronting Creaming Jesus and Giant Paw, and Miller his bringing up the rear in Lords of the New Church and Showgirls, Burrows and O’Neill’s credentials come from the comedy circuit. Having often had himself and the other Men That… open on his stand-up tours as the ’occult comedian’, O’Neill is neither short on work ethic nor other bookings, and has been hired to provide the humour at alternative events such as Download, Sonisphere, Metal Hammer Golden Gods and Torture Garden.
If two comedians doth a comedy band make, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing are not your average. Solid tunesmithery – of the sort you saw in days when things were still built to last, underpin the jokes – the sort that have been around since the 1800s and have still to wear thin. On ‘The Great Stink’, there’s sufficient attention to historical detail for history buffs listening to feel smug is balanced with the great leveller amongst laughter-triggers that is toilet humour, as the band go on a sludgy grind (or wade) through London’s streets in times before Bazelgette’s sewer system. ‘The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser (by RV Pierce MD)’ is essentially a song about wanking, reviving some advice from the tome of its title, which we might to well to remember in the age of modern maladies like internet porn addiction before this whole country goes to the asylum.
The immediate hooks and humour are beginning to bring The Men significant interest far beyond the Steampunk subculture, and as well as playing Detroit’s World Steam Expo they’ve now been seen on stages at Edinburgh Fringe and Whitby Goth Festival, and on the pages of publications ranging from NME to The Chap. More quirky coverage has appeared at the BBC Technology website, whose team took it upon themselves to build an archaic phonograph, required to play a single released exclusively on limited edition wax cylinder. Supplied to the buyer with instructions to make their own machine with which to play their purchase, the cylinder release may not sound an viable venture even to those who predicted vinyl‘s rebirth, but demand proved enough for the band to release a second in the format last Autumn. For fans who were unable to get their hands on one of the limited run of ‘Free Spirit‘ produced then (or who simply found their engineering skills not up to scratch when it came down to it), a live version of the track appears on the new album.