Led by Gareth Sager (ex-Pop Group/Rip Rig + Panic/Float Up CP) and featuring guitarist Nick Sheppard (a onetime Cortina who played in the Clash’s miserable afterlife), this loopy Bristol rock quintet — a casually clever in-joke that’s not hard to share — has a jolly old time on its first album, indulging in fake sea chanteys and traditional folk songs, sending up Elvis Presley and making mincemeat of assorted rock (i)conventions. Clevedon Pier’s commanding Iggy-like voice and the band’s ever-changing musical approach makes A Snog on the Rocks as unpredictable as a Three Johns record, but a lot easier on the ears.
The stronger Tales of Ordinary Madness (on which the slightly refigured group uses an entirely different set of pseudonyms) turns Head’s light on rambunctious, occasionally panoramic rock (with horns and piano as well as load guitar and mighty rhythms), taking in quite a bit of stylistic ground. The funky “Get Fishy,” which sounds like Foetus getting busy with the J. Geils Band, follows the brassy theatricality of “Machete Vendetta”; complete with strings, the jazzed-out “1000 Hangovers Later” evokes swanky nightclub dissolution with a distinct Nick Cave bent, while “32a” gives an Exile on Main St treatment to the subject of jukebox addiction. Crazy, and loads of fun.
Co-produced by Michael Jonzun (brother of New Kids on the Block svengali Maurice Starr), Head’s rock, funk and soul are disappointingly unambitious — even sappy — on Intoxicator, a flat-sounding album that displays no more than a glimmer (“Under the Influence of Books”) of the previous records’ feverish invention, humor or radicalism. Pier’s dramatic voice gives the songs most of their character; otherwise, both the material and presentation (with the exception, on both fronts, of the brisk Sager-produced pop of “B’Goode or Be Gone”) are entirely lusterless.