Whatever turns you on…The Hotrats

HOTRATS

“…her tastes have changed in the bedroom. I mean, I’m cool with S&M and obviously if she wants to be S then I have to be M, I mean we can’t both be M. I think it’s because of “50 Shades of Grey”. I think reading that has made her very horny but, at the same time, very angry.”

(Jeremy Usborne)

Funny things are “turn ons”…those little things that can send us from sedate to sadist with the rub of an ear lobe, the uttering of a word or the brush of a specific fabric across bared buttocks.

Enough about my bedroom antics.

Nobody is interested.

Not even the other person in the bedroom.

You can’t blame them.

Not really.

I’m not exactly Jamie Dornan.

I’m not even Jamie Oliver.

More arm pit than Brad Pitt.

You get the picture.

You, of course, will have your own peculiar pecadilloes.

Your own little list of things that just…do it for you.

Good luck to you.

These are as unique to you as your fingerprints…I mean, do you really think that anyone else is doing to that stuffed doll of a beloved childhood character what you are doing to it? They are not. Bumping and grinding with him on your soiled sheets. You should be ashamed.

All of this brings us, in the most roundabout and sordid of ways, to the turn ons of Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey. Following hot on the heels of their return with Supergrass this year comes a re-issue of their 2010 album “Turn Ons” released under the moniker of The Hotrats. Like David Bowie’s “Pin-Ups” or Dexys “Let the Record Show” this is one of those moments in music history when the album of cover versions transcends trite karaoke or duller than dishwater retreads and becomes something new, something different and something gloriously original despite the lack of, well, original material.

Back in 2009 Gaz and Danny introduced The Hotrats to an audience at the Old Blue Last in London. Producer of the album, Nigel Godrich, was there as DJ. At one point during the festivities Coombes told the audience;

“Let us be your free jukebox for the evening, thank you for joining us on our mad little musical adventure”

That is the heart of the affair.

“Turn Ons” is the sound of the best jukebox selections you have ever heard. It’s like stumbling across a proper pub on a wet afternoon and discovering that somebody has reached the jukebox before you and then, rather than being frustrated as their awful selections dampen your mood in the same way as the rain has your clothes, you find that the person responsible is the best friend you never knew you had.

It is also a stroll through rock and roll history…

I was the oldest of three brothers so didn’t have an older sibling to introduce me to the weird and the wonderful in pop music. I had to rely on my parents record collection and the names that bands dropped in the NME and Melody Maker. “Turn Ons” is the collection of songs that I will gift to my little girl as her map through the dizzying highs that pop is capable of delivering. She will thank me for it.

“It was kind of like getting a mix tape together for a girlfriend like when you were a kid”

(Danny Goffey)

I made mix tapes for girls on an almost daily basis between 1989 and, let me see, oh, last night. Carefully selecting the songs that you thought presented the best possible version of you…and when I say “best” I mean, of course, “coolest”. The problem for someone like me was that my best self, my coolest self, was still something very far away from the best or the coolest of anything. I was awkward, clumsy, difficult and diffident. If I had been capable of a mix tape that was as good as this…I may have lost my virginity a lot sooner than I did.

Let’s move on.

The songs that Goffey and Coombes chose were not always “favourites” but rather songs that they felt they could do something with, songs they could bring something to, songs they could put their stamp on and songs they could have fun with. That means that the whole album feels very much like their work.

The album starts with a genuinely thrilling and thunderous run through of the Velvet Underground’s “I Can’t Stand It”. A nod to the influence of Lou Reed and the gang on everything and everyone that followed, an influence that goes further than the bass line from “Taxman” and that bleeds into everything from the music to the attitude of so many great bands. It’s an indication of why Supergrass never sounded like boys who only ever listened to “Rubber Soul”. Their influences and inspirations stretched a little wider than the Mersey and even when they arrived at the age of about 13 and three quarters they knew that a Paul Weller haircut wasn’t the extent of their ambitions.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, and the album, is a heartbreaking, soulful, rendition of “Up The Junction” which was originally performed by Squeeze and is all the evidence that one needs for the assertion that Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford are songwriters who deserve their place at the top table of English pop. It is a masterclass in social realism in pop, a melancholic Mike Leigh film on seven inches of black vinyl and, here, it is just as powerful, just as affecting and just as beautiful.

Across the rest of the album are hand clappin’, foot stompin’, soul bruisn’, versions of songs by everyone from Elvis Costello and Roxy Music to the Beastie Boys and The Cure. Albums like this can, very easily, slip into Westlife territory…empty vessels making deeply unpleasant noises; all the right notes, all the right words but none of them in the right order, leaving you with the spiritual equivalent of that moment, thirty minutes after you’ve finished a MacDonald’s when you realise you haven’t eaten anything more substantial than air and you are still hungry. “Turn Ons” is no Happy Meal. This is haute cuisine in sonic form.

What Goffey and Coombes created with this album was something that would, like the songs they chose, stand the test of time and sound as fresh years into the future as it did on the day it was recorded. Here we are years in the future and, true enough, the album sounds as exciting, uplifting and wonderful as it did when it was released. These is rotten days and as we feel the walls close in on us we need things that will bring a bit of light, lift the mood, shake us from the sofa and inject a little joy into our lives, “Turn Ons” does all of that. It would take a will power I don’t possess for you to listen to their version of “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” by the Beastie Boys and not grin like the Cheshire Cat at what they have done or to stay glued to the sofa watching “Tiger King” for the third time when “Lovecats” strikes up.

It promises to be a long, possibly torturous, few months ahead. Contact with friends and loved ones restricted to House Party, Zoom and WhatsApp video chats, no live music or sport, restrictions on our movement and maybe worse…so when you are offered something that will apply the soothing balm of Gilead to your soul then you should grab it.

Turn on the turn ons.

“Turn Ons” is available to pre-order now from DEMON MUSIC GROUP.

A 4 disc set featuring the album with newly recorded tracks, a live disc, karaoke with The Hotrats and a DVD which includes an interview with the band and videos for three tracks…plus a 36 page booklet that has unpublished photographs.