Scott Lavene released Milk City Sweethearts in September – and it’s a belter. Lavene’s first album under his own name, 2019’s Broke, had spots of brilliance in an uneven set of tracks; Milk City Sweethearts is on a higher level, with rather more swathes of brilliance. It’s still quirky, still insightful, still musical – but this time round sustained, an album and an artist more at peace with their creative talent. Lavene is described as “born and raised in Essex, but a man of the world who has wandered far and wide” and it shows in the stories on this album.
As John Donne said, “Comparisons are odious”. And yet…. when describing music in the medium of words, sometimes they help. Especially when trying to give a picture of something out of the ordinary. So, let’s use a few references from over the years.
Can you have a heritage for the unique? Try this. Depending on your age, do you remember the first time you saw/heard Grace Petrie? Frank Turner? Billy Bragg? Ian Dury? Do you remember the awe when you heard their great songs? Stories of everyday life? Delivery which was simultaneously quirky and absolutely spot on? In five to ten years, someone will be asking, “Do you remember the first time you heard Scott Lavene? Grace Petrie…..” Like the others in my list above, Lavene is right to be counted among them – not least because he’s unique.
Take ‘The First Time’ as an example. On Milk City Sweethearts, the album retains the conversational style from Broke as the stories are told, but now there’s a sustained sharpness to the lyrics. For this track, Lavene intones a series of first times – inhaling a cigarette, kissing a girl behind the dry cleaners in Romford. But he moves past these to other less obvious rites of passage – waking up on a roundabout or in a bush for the first time, realising for the first time that if he didn’t stop he would die young. There’s some great intonation – the best being “The first time I had sex was awful […long-ish pause….] for her” – and also much more capturing of a deeper perspective on life “There’s a first time for everything [pause, change of tone…] and one day there’ll be a last”.
‘Nigel’ feels like it should be a single, up tempo and balanced between humour and an acute, if bitter-sweet, capturing of life for Nigel (and his Janet); ‘The Earth Don’t Spin’ should be played in an 80’s club, danceable without being poppy; ‘Lord Of Citrus’ is made for BBC Radio 6; ‘The Toffee Tickler’ is drum, tambourine and a weird picaresque tale which only gets weirder after the opening line “She was a robust thing who never even flinched as I threw her from the balcony”; ‘The Ballad of Lynsey’ is a modern, (I know, comparisons, but how else to suggest how good this is? ) take on ‘Walk Away Renee (Version)’ finishing, “It felt like it would last forever but forever only lasted a year/ I chose amphetamines over you”; ‘Worms’ takes you on a cheery musical journey from chopping a worm in two to Greek island deckchairs and pedalos; ‘Walk Away’ bounces along to keyboards and drums; if it had a video by a film-maker inspired by Ken Russell, ‘Roll Up’ would stay towards the top of the YouTube charts for a while; and, finally, ‘Say Hello to Zeus’ all gentle piano, slightly haunting back sound and long slow delivery by Lavene, a song of loss and tenderness to finish the album.
Do you have a feel? Milk City Sweethearts is where Lavene has matched his talent to the album format. In many ways it’s not folk….and in many ways his stories and insights into everyday life are the stuff which is the very spirit of folk. This is a grand album.
Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com/scottlavenemusic
‘The First Time’ – official video: