published: 21 /
Jamie Rowland examines the erratic career of Green Peppers, the solo project of former Soup Dragons' guitarist and Glasgow-based musician, Jim McCulloch
Jim McCulloch is a long-standing member of Glasgow’s vibrant music scene, having played in BMX Bandits, Superstar and that oh-so-early-nineties of UK indie bands, Soup Dragons. Since 2005, he’s been releasing solo records under the name Green Peppers, collaborating with the likes of Isobel Campbell, Emma Pollock of the Delgadoes and Justin Currie of Del Amitri. All three Green Peppers albums have been released through Glasgow-based Neon Tetra records between 2004 and 2008.
McCulloch’s first Green Peppers effort, 'Joni’s Garden', is a folk album with a suitably strong Joni Mitchell influence - particularly on the title track, of course. The sound is pretty stripped back, which suits the songwriting and makes it an intimate, enjoyable listen. This is pop music in the vein of Belle and Sebastian (bit of an easy comparison perhaps, but true nonetheless) – catchy melodies and lyrics about romance and personal failures; what I’m going to call “upbeat melancholy sounds”. Because I’m an arse like that.
Green Peppers’ next record, 'Domino Mornings, has a bit more oompf to it, with McCulloch plugging his guitar in and ripping into some solos. It’s still pop – we haven’t gone through some kind of hair-metal metamorphosis – but it’s definitely a more aggressive record, with the rhythm section taking a more prominent position than on the more folk-heavy 'Joni’s Garden'. As one might guess from song titles like ‘Shabby Horses’ ‘Honest Injun’ and ‘Deep South’, 'Domino Mornings' has more of an Americana/rhythm and blues/rock’n’roll feel to it – appropriately, the words ‘rock’n’roll’ are hiding underneath the CD on the album artwork. This is a much more memorable album than its predecessor – it’s fun, the songs are catchy and the influences are a little more varied (‘I Will Always Be the Same’ is just a little bit Paul Simon, for better or worse).
Conversely, 'Adventures in the Slipstream' is nowhere near as memorable, and not even close to being as much fun to listen to. Going for a 60's-revival sound, McCulloch seems to have picked the twee-est, most sugary musical styles of that decade and dusted them off for eleven new songs of his own.
Individually, the songs are quite pleasant – ‘Angel, Angel’ has a nice, haunting verse reminiscent of the Carpenters’ ‘Superstar’, while ‘The Liars’ reminds me very much of ‘Blackbird’ from the Beatles’ 'White Album'. Altogether, however, the album frankly gets a little trying. You want to shout at the musicians to put some energy into it; it’s all too sweet and sickly, flowers-in-your-hair, dancing round a maypole, holding hands, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”-type tweeness. By the time I got to the “fa la la-la” fest that is ‘Golden Geese’, I had had enough I’m afraid.
Still though, don’t write Green Peppers off. For one thing, twee 60s folk/pop might be your bag, man - in which case you should pick their last record up – and for another I found their first two records really pretty damn good, particularly 'Domino Mornings'. Altogether, worth exploring – particularly if you are a follower of Glasgow’s diverse and always interesting music output.