Review Summary: I might become the things I swore I'd always be.
Even as hardcore fans continue to lap up extra material, you rarely see analyses of releases outside of albums. These B-sides, EPs, bonus tracks (etc) are all too often treated as castaways and cash grabs, an attempt to gain something from the time an artist has spent on failures that couldn’t make the final product. In defence of the consumer, there are many artists who do exactly that, but lumping Ben Cooper in with those is a grave mistake. If anything, The Bastards
epitomizes what these additions should be – music that adds
something to the main release, with a very specific purpose and intent.
For the uninitiated, The Bastards
is a trio of EPs created to match a trio of LPs called The Family Tree
, telling the story of the Northcotes family in spectacular fashion. Part fact, part fable, it’s been described by Cooper himself as “a Frankenstein of random genealogy charts, my own family history, some of my personal experiences and plain old fiction”. It’s a beautifully written concept spanning several generations, covering the entire spectrum of human emotion as this tree grows outward while simultaneously being whittled down by harsh reality. Volume 1
mirrors the first LP The Roots
in spanning the first 2 generations of the Northcotes from 1800-1860, and in the same manner, uses the most simplistic instrumentation of the trilogy. Restricting himself to only an acoustic guitar, a piano, and limiting percussion to a floor tom and hand claps gives the entire release a cohesive earthy feel, while also lending an air of honesty and providing the release with a definitive place in the tale. If you had to concisely describe the release, the word "quaint" couldn't be a more apt description, with straightforward lyricism, musical simplicity and uncluttered compositions.
The purpose of this release is to flesh out the family tree, and The Bastards
follows along with those that didn’t contribute to the rest of the tree. The ones that fled in rough times or didn’t accomplish what they had planned – the failures and the outcasts. It should be noted though that none of these tracks were relegated to this EP due to any shortcomings, they simply didn’t have a place in the primary album. They simply didn’t contribute to the flow or goals of the album, so they were left out and given a separate space. It’s really poetic, and Cooper treats them with the utmost care and respect. It may not be as engaging and diverse as The Roots
was, that much is certain, but there’s a very specific purpose behind that. These characters are designed for negativity, living their lives through denial and feigned positivity, where hope is the only fuel to keep them going. You know it’s going to be a rough ride when a line like “It's only blood; I have plenty left” is a positive one. Hell, paraphrasing the lyrics of the closer essentially reads “nothing can possibly get worse from here. We should be happy, because it can only get better!” Even lined up next to the raw emotional pieces in the main album, it’s a tough haul having 3 of these downtrodden pieces in a row, giving a lot of emotional staying power to the release for any sympathetic listeners.
While such a short release undoubtedly suffers from a lack of variation and the inability to fully flesh these characters out in the short space, it’s something that should be experienced by anyone who has appreciated The Roots
. Even if it’s not an integral part of the story, it builds upon the world forged in its parent album, adding splashes of colour to the surroundings and making the whole tale that bit more believable. Even if the tracks themselves mean little to you, their importance to the world Cooper is creating cannot be understated.