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Papernut Cambridge - Outstairs Instairs

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 24 / 8 / 2018

Papernut Cambridge - Outstairs Instairs
Label: Gare du Nord Records
Format: CD


Fourth album from Ian Button’s indie supergroup Papernut Cambridge plays back-to-front and finds him fleshing out the band’s glam-pop with a piano based-sound

Papernut Cambridge were once the headline act in a gig that happened only in Ian Button’s head – during a dream. In 2011, he remembered the name and used it for a song he’d written for a Christmas ‘advent calendar’ project. As the song was a collaboration with other musicians, he decided he didn’t want to use the name of his established side project, Anthony Anderson. That one song could have been it – but the enthusiasm of Button’s collaborators encouraged Button to flesh out the concept. Papernut Cambridge acquired a back story and even their own theme song, with an album released in 2013. At first, each song was recorded at home by Button, with collaborators working remotely. But gradually, Papernut Cambridge emerged from a dream into the real world, and now has a solid live line-up and an extensive back catalogue. Sometimes they even record in the same room. The concept itself has remained intentionally hazy. On the band’s exceptional second album, ‘There’s No Underground’, they lurked in the background. Button was imagining what it would have been like for someone in his hometown of Sidcup in the 1970s, seeing strange characters who would go on to be the defining figures in glam and punk riding around on local buses and playing pub gigs, before suddenly disappearing into central London. On last year’s ‘Cambridge Circus’, the band were re-imagined as the back story to an elaborate spy plot. At the same time, Papernut Cambridge have proved a vehicle for blending the nostalgia of 1970s pop culture with the possibilities of 21st century downloading. Each release has come in multiple formats, packaged up with fan-club paraphernalia and is then complemented by downloads. With such a wide range of collaborators, Button has multiple versions of each song on hand and thus no format sounds exactly the same – on his first album, for example, the vinyl version of the album doesn’t have any drums. On this latest album, you can have a physical edition, where all the songs are crossfaded into one another or a download version where each track is a standalone (i.e. playlist-friendly). Vinyl customers will find that the record plays inside-out, in keeping with the album’s title. I plumped for the CD box-set edition, where you also get an extra discs or outtakes and alternative mixes, and a ‘missing/presumed lost’ album from Ian Button’s earlier Anthony Anderson project. It’s almost as if Button has decided to skip straight ahead to the anniversary box-set edition, with bonus tracks galore. All of this would be fun even if the music didn’t quite stack up. But, over the course of four ‘official’ albums and a number of bonuses (an instrumental side-project last year ended up on one national magazine’s Album of the Year lists), Papernut Cambridge have consistently delivered the goods. Earlier albums were firmly in the ‘indie’ camp, driven by guitars and Button’s snarled lyrical style, but the palette has broadened. This time, the distinguishing feature is layers of piano – sometimes, this is grand and bombastic (akin to 'Aladdin Sane'), at other times it is pure music hall (think ‘Venus and Mars’-era Wings). Listen with half an ear, and this could be an episode of 'Top of The Pops 2', but closer attention reveals an idiosyncratic touch, with metaphors that are so specific to be both instantly recognisable but utterly unsuited to conventional pop music (“Sometimes the butter’s just too hard for the bread”). ‘Outstairs Instairs’ blends the sounds of 1970s pop with the moods and motivations of the 1960s. But, it is almost as if this is the music a 70s pre-teen thought they were hearing – other worldly yet hummable, psychedelia without the psychedelic drugs, glam rock without the fear of being beaten up. If that sounds like a criticism, it isn’t meant as one. Ian Button is well aware that he isn’t about to be invited onto national television and isn’t attempting to be measured against Bowie or Lou Reed. But, unlike say Luke Haines, there is no sense that he is sending up pop music or turning it into a cryptic joke. This is an affectionate re-imagination of the sounds of the 1970s. As ever, Button’s songs are memorable. This record, however, does feel like another step up for the band – the main reason being that the contributions of the many collaborators are becoming increasingly ambitious. On the 'Cambridge Circus' album, Button even handed over the songwriting reigns to his bandmates, and, while he is back in control here, Papernut Cambridge feels more and more like a band and less like a project. For anyone intrigued about what is happening down in Papernut Cambridge’s South East London hinterland, ‘Outstairs Instairs’ would be an excellent step into their world.

Track Listing:-
1 Buckminster Fullerene
2 Crying
3 House of Pink Icing
4 Tulips In a Top Hat
5 How To Love Someone
6 Not Even Steven
7 Angelo Aggy
8 Mr Shimshiner
9 Kalinda
10 No Pressure
11 New Forever

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