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From the Heart of Town

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Album Review

Finding themselves on a major label in the U.S. — perhaps thanks to their opening stint with Morrissey, whose American company Sire fronted the cash — Gallon Drunk thankfully made no concessions to anyone when it came to full album number two. Living up to the brilliantly garish cover photo, From the Heart of Town starts off with a killer tribute to fellow London scene figure Jake Elvis via "Jake on the Make," and its crazed sleaze, balanced off against quiet, nervous verses, doesn't let up. There's a little more use of space here and there in the arrangements, while Johnston explores slightly crisper performances on both guitar and keyboards, but that only makes the full-band rampages all the more unnerving. Everything's still sounding like a smoky bar somewhere in 1965, where goodfellas, rockabilly freak cases, and whiskey-soaked jazzmen are all on the edge of taking out their frustrations on everyone else. Another take-no-prisoners single helps showcase the album's full brilliance, "Bedlam," which doesn't so much live up to its name as incarnate it, with just enough suaveness to top it off. Besides the core four members from before, there's a semi-regular fifth here and there, Terry Edwards, whose avant-cabaret style on trumpets and sax slots in perfectly with Gallon Drunk's own ethos. Curiously, he's only credited on two tracks, but it certainly sounds like him on other songs like "Arlington Road" (during which, it has to be said, Johnston sounds so much like Nick Cave it's almost highway robbery). There's even a slow, tender moment on the album — or so it seems. "You Should Be Ashamed" may feature notable backing vocals from Laetitia Sadier and Johnston's girlfriend, Geraldine Swayne, who also wrote the lyrics for the skeletal mood-out meets soul break. However, said lyrics detail the impact of unwanted pregnancy, abortion, and societal disapproval to both, making an affecting combination of atmosphere and direct intent.


Formed: 1990 in London, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Often compared to dark and brooding sounds of such artists as Tom Waits, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, and Morphine, the London quartet Gallon Drunk originally formed in 1990, consisting of members James Johnston (vocals, guitar, organ), Mike Delanian (bass), Max Decharne (drums, also keyboard player with the Earls of Suave), and Joe Byfield (maracas). Shortly after their formation, the quartet began issuing singles on their own label (Massive), most of which reached the top of the independent charts and...
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