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Album Review

Since the Victorian era, the school novel has been a mainstay of British literature, from the earnest social correctives of its earliest examples through the parodic drollery of P.G. Wodehouse's Mike and Psmith series to the present day, when young adult series as varied as Louise Rennison's hysterical Georgia Nicolson books, and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter epics are rooted in the eternal cycle of the school year and its attendant humiliations and triumphs. Jim Bob's School is indie pop's contribution to the genre, a completely deadpan but extremely funny album-length ode to the quotidian life of the student. Jim Bob, formerly half of the wry indie duo Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, has long since demonstrated a knack for being socially perceptive and devastatingly funny at the same time, and hearing him take on a single subject from multiple points of view reveals an almost novelistic sense of detail. Rather than being mere nostalgia à la Madness' "Baggy Trousers," School is set in the present day and not only tells an actual story, but does so with sympathy for the students, teachers, and administration. Set in an unnamed and not very good public school that's hampered by student misbehavior that occasionally turns thuggish and violent (two of the album's most immediately catchy tunes, "ASBOmania!" and "The Mufti Day Riots") that's matched with apathy and dread by the instructors ("Storm in the Staff Room," "Taking Care of the Caretaker"), School is a fairly dark record at times. But Jim Bob lightens the mood with dead-on tunes like the near-catatonic "Mrs. F*****g MacMurphy (Teaches Food Technology)," a song about the deadening boredom — for teacher and students both — of the school day, and the end of summer lament "Back to School." And for all the intimations of bad vibes, the semi-triumphant closer "The School Is Not the Building (It's the Children)" ends things on an at least partially hopeful note. Musically, the album features a cast of a dozen musicians collectively known as "the School Orchestra", who give the album a more varied sound than many of Jim Bob's shoestring solo albums have managed, creating a form of distinctly British pop borrowing heavily from the Kinks. Nice touches like the Ennio Morricone harmonica that wafts through the tense, threatening "School Wars" help make this one of Jim Bob's most enjoyable efforts.

School, Jim Bob
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