by Chris Hatch
The concept album. The creative device that worries many a music fan. It’s a phrase that usually calls to mind some overblown 70s prog rock, or a below-par story that involves wizards and faeries. But worse than that, it usually rears its head when a band or artist have let their creative juices run dry.
Who Knows Jenny Jones?, from Sheffield-based Mr Ben & The Bens, is a concept album – but it’s one that doesn’t fall into the usual traps that can stifle a band. It’s central story tells us of the eponymous Jenny Jones – a perpetually downtrodden woman who floats through life anonymously in 1970s Pitsmoor (a village in Sheffield). Having failed her third job interview in a row, she heads, uninvited, to a local dance. On her way there, she takes a shortcut through the graveyard, when (wait for it…) she gets abducted by aliens who grant her the ability to be the best disco dancer in town.
While each track on the album is directly related to the concept, they never feel suffocated by it – each standing up on its own, even away from the bulk of the album. The songs here, however, are drawn from a similar colour palette – the dishwater greys of Jenny’s plodding life, the gloomy, iron-coloured skies of Northern England, and the dull shine of the kitchen-sink narrative are given the odd speck of glimmer – see the poppy, rapid fire The Edge Of A Cloud. But it’s on midway point, Transmissions, that the album suddenly bursts into Technicolor – mirroring the titular character’s story.
Transmissions is the album’s highlight – kitschy, upbeat, psychedelia-tinged pop that heralds a turn of pace and change in tone. The songs that come after Transmissions find Mr Ben delving into a more electronic sound – Equestria could easily be ripped from some late-70s sci-fi theme tune, while Sleeping makes use of a hypnotic, chugging synth line to enhance the extraterrestrial feel of the album’s final third.
In summary, it’s fairer to say that the record feels less like a concept album, and more like a film soundtrack – it has shades of Belle & Sebastian’s recent Days Of The Bagnold Summer and Neon Neon’s interplanetary debut, as well as the storytelling elements of Mike Leigh, Alex Turner, and Ken Loach. While Who Knows Jenny Jones? is missing a little bit of the poppiness of previous EP, Happy Shopper, and is lacking some of the bite of this year’s Nova Scotia, it more than makes up for it with its perfectly placed tone, and creatively told tales. An accompanying booklet penned by Bingo Records’ Lloyd Bent adds further colour to the story, and is a credit to the label’s DIY ethos. If you ever wondered what all those UFO sightings and rumours of alien abductions were all really about, then this is the album for you.
Secret Meeting score: 79