Tin Pot Operation -- Human Resources

You know those independent record stores that still have crates and crates of used vinyl for sale? Those poorly-lit, musty repositories of all things that would end up on college radio during the 1980s? Almost every city has at least one such store and practically each one employs at least a pair of astonishingly knowledgeable clerks whose encyclopedic familiarity with under-appreciated music and whose passion for righting the injustices of popular taste result in remarkably cool records spinning on the aging turntables behind the counter. I'm talking about the stores where the clerks play the background music less to sell records than to make a statement of this is what's good, this is the art worth seeking out. From the second I started listening to Human Resources, the Tin Pot Operation's most recent release, I could not help but think that this is precisely the sort of record that should go into heavy rotation in every cool independent record store on the planet.

As far as I can tell, I am hardly the first person to find it difficult to describe the Tin Pot Operation's sound. It seems like other reviewers are especially keen on likening the band to other bands -- Stiff Little Fingers and the Clash, especially -- or, more vaguely, to the Stiff Records catalog (Elvis Costello, Ten Pole Tudor, the Adverts, Motorhead, and Ian Dury, among others, called the legendary label home). I'm tempted to say that, on the Indie-Punk spectrum, Human Resources is probably closer to the "Indie" side of things (whatever that means) than to the "Punk" side of things (whatever that means), but I think I'd be better off saying that the Tin Pot Operation sound like the Tin Pot Operation. In other words, yeah, sure, there's echoes of a few dozen great bands on this disk, but I'm hesitant to pigeonhole a band as interesting as the Tin Pot Operation by saying they sound like this or that group.

If anything, I am partial to the comparisons with the Clash. I say this because, like the Clash, the Tin Pot Operation blend an impossibly diverse assortment of sounds into an impressively uniform, tight end product. And there really aren't a whole lot of bands capable of that feat. While not quite Strummer-Jones, the guitar/vocals tandem of Anto O'Kane and Ray Lawler certainly makes for a much richer, nuanced, and satisfyingly complex brand of melody than what passes for punk rock these days. What I find most impressive, however, is the way that the band manages to fashion sing-alongs out of trenchant political lyrics. That, too, is sorta, kinda like the Clash. . .

Unifying the band's sound, of course, is their unmistakeable passion. You get the impression that there has never been a group of people happier to be angry. But what really matters, I suppose, is the fact that the Tin Pot Operation can take R & B riffs, mellow Radiohead-like melodies, occasional bluesy-folksy rhythms, and bursts of punk speed, shake it all up, and produce a record as thoroughly enjoyable as Human Resources, a disk I have been humming and singing along to all weekend.


Track 1. "Sooner the Better." Shaz Morgan's bass on this track, in my opinion, is among the album's finest performances, but one's not likely to notice it under the slashing guitars and almost a cappella vocal harmonization towards the song's conclusion.

Track 2. "Cold." The whoa-oh-oohs alone make this track a keeper.

Track 3. "Right and Wrong." One of the least "punk" tracks I'll ever mention on this blog, but I'd be a bad reviewer if I didn't highlight the delicate beauty of the strings (all of 'em) on this song.

Track 7. "One Night." A driving beat followed by a mellow bit followed by some of those whoa-oh-ooohs that I love so much.

Track 10. "Tell the Kids." This is one of the best songs I've heard this year. Imagine a house band flipping off the management, ditching the covers they were hired to play, cranking up the volume, upping the tempo, singing the lyrics they really want to sing, and getting the crowd caught up in the sheer joy of it all. That's "Tell the Kids."

Sobriquet Grade: 88 (B+).


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