I had the good fortune to spend the early 1990s in one of the few remaining places on Earth with an alternative radio
station that had yet to succumb to the highly infectious disease of corporate ownership. A place where jocks
spun what they wanted, and all the money in the world couldn't get a record played if it was overproduced studio crap
Not realizing what a precious gift this was, I was only half paying attention to the acoustic guitar-based pop coming out of my car radio as I drove to class one day when a fragment of a lyric punctured my consciousness.
You're younger than my kids
Well, that's a bit a departure from the moon June swoon school of songwriting, no? It's a line whose whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. It's a sketch of an entire relationship between two people, with undertones of infatuation, lust, regret, and sorrow, all crammed into five measly words. And it had a jangly rhytym guitar line to boot. Perfection.
The jock mentioned that the song was by an outfit known as "Denzil," off the album Pub. Fair enough. I made a mental note to check it out when I got the chance.
I must've mentioned it to my fiancee at some point, because a month or two later, she presented me with a gift: my very own copy of Pub (Giant Records, 1994), featuring an almost erotic closeup photo of a sweating pint of beer. Stamped in gold foil on the cover was "For Promotional Radio Station Use Only. Not Authorized for Resale". My fiancee explained that she had visited several record stores, only to encounter blank looks from slacker cashiers who couldn't find the album in their computer systems and just assumed she had misheard the name of the artist. She finally found a copy in a used record store, where some unscrupulous radio station employee had managed to convert the spoils of the job into a couple bucks apiece.
"Denzil" is actually Denzil Thomas, a young British singer-songwriter who doesn't look old enough to be hanging around in pubs. He wrote all 15-odd tracks on the album, and does all the singing, although there's some nice harmony on some of the choruses. The songs, which are chock full of a British argot that is only comprehensible, if at all, by its context and delivery, are populated by a cast of working class folk who obsess over the lottery ("If Alan Won the Pools") or cave into the temptation to embezzle money from their employer ("Shame"). Many are catchy and clever, although Thomas does indulge a dark and angry side in an ominous, vaguely threatening song like "Goodnight Darling," or in the distortion-fuzzed fury of "Autistic."
But for me, the highlight is the first track, the tune I had caught on the radio, called "Fat Loose Fancies Me," the narrator's tale about a co-ed schoolmate's affair with an older man. Despite its simple, catchy pop melody, it's one of the most literate and observant slices of narrative you'll find in a 3 1/2 minute song:
She's fat loose and fancies me,
But she's hanging off a barman of 43
And he nibbles her ear, she giggles and grins,
She knows she loves her father but she can't imagine doing this with him
. . .
In six weeks time, she says, naturally
"You're not the man that you used to be."
And he says "Darling, how could I be?
When you were born, I was twenty-three.
Married and in love, like a stallion in stud,
And now I weave this network of fibs.
I write a mid-life pantomime -- you're younger than my kids."
. . .
And it's now or never.
He has a picture of them together.
She says stuff like "Life's a game."
He's got a locker room story, but the boys are getting older every day.
It's a fantastic pop song, but nobody's ever heard of it. Search the internet for Pub, and you'll find half a dozen used record shops selling promotional copies, just like the one I've got. Even though it scored two Grammy nominations in 1993, one for Best New Artist (losing out to Toni Braxton) and one for Best Album (losing out to the soundtrack to "The Bodyguard"), it's long since out of print. The album is so obscure that Thomas felt the need to leave an apologetic message for potential buyers on Amazon.com, explaining that the band broke up in 1996, and that he's working in radio now.
Then again, maybe the song is so meaningful to me because, a few years later, my fiancee left me for the man like the guy in the song. I don't know what happened to Denzil Thomas in his personal life, but now, at least, I can understand why a guy that young is drowning his sorrows down at the pub.