ballboy – Club Anthems

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Wow, do I adore ballboy (in spite of the lowercase). Witty, literate, sardonic, wise, and tuneful as you could want. Not for everyone, this is indie-pop whose unselfconscious romanticism is leavened with a cosmically dark sense of humor. Gordon McIntyre’s skewed perspectives are buoyed by his delightful brogue and the band is uniformly adept at creating just the right backdrop; in fact, it’s easy to overlook their contributions when the lyrics command so much attention, but they are more than McIntyre’s equal when it comes to crafting the songs. ballboy never caught on here, but they were one of the cleverest bands around and I wish they had found more success.

What I Think of This Album

Club Anthems is a compilation album, made up of a bunch of early EPs, and perhaps a bit long and not sequenced ideally. Still, it’s a pretty great introduction:  funny, melodic, lovely, revelatory. The song titles are a riot:  “I Hate Scotland,” “Essential Wear for Future Trips to Space,” “Sex is Boring,” “Donald In the Bushes with a Bag of Glue.”

Gordon McIntyre’s lyrics and brogue do a lot of the heavy lifting, but everyone contributes: Katie Griffiths’s keyboards provide a solid musical foundation and harmonic color (to say nothing of her work on the xylophone), bassist Nick Reynolds adds bounce and vivacity, and drummer Gary Morgan keeps things moving apace.

“I Hate Scotland” both is and is not representative of the band:  while they normally traffic in much more melodic stuff than this, McIntyre’s spoken word vocals – including his thoughts on executing a perfect dive (“I think if I could do it / The seconds would feel like hours to me / It would be like medicine / Staying with me during the days and during the weeks / When I’m just pushing on / Just getting by”) – are a fair glimpse into his mindset. “Essential Wear” is much more typical: keyboard washes, strummy guitars and insistent xylophone plinking buoy McIntyre’s romantic musings (“Even polar bears need warm hearts / to make it through the snow”).

The narrator in “Sex is Boring” mocks his partner, before acknowledging his own defects. “Donald In the Bushes . . .” is a sly xylophone-sprinkled tale of domesticity and personal unmooring. “Olympic Cyclist” is a fragile paean to the titular athlete, owing a little to Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” and beautifully evoking the “rain-soaked sprint for gold.”

“I’ve Got Pictures of You in Your Underwear” is a frenzied affair reminiscent of early Wedding Present (not for nothing, this release is on the Manifesto label), with McIntyre painting a detailed and empathic picture of lost innocence. “One Sailor Was Waving” is a deeply self-loathing track masked by a horn-like keyboard part and an appealing bass rumble under a disco high-hat.

Then comes a slow, somber four song stretch that could have used some excising, though its worth listening to “Swim for Health” as it waltzes across a parquet floor of trumpet and violin, telling another tale of self-pity (“I broke my own heart again / It was a stupid thing to do”). In any event, “Public Park” is a mood changer of dramatic tom rolls and another horn-like keyboard part (“And you’re standing in a public park with a pooper-scooper in your hand / This is not what you aspired to / When you were young and your whole life lay before you”).

And “A Day in Space” is a fantastic, hilarious spoken word piece where McIntyre explains his desire to visit the heavens while deriding those who don’t share his dream; every now and then, he repeats words and phrases and the effect is mesmerizing. This should have been the bookend to “Scotland.” That said, closer “Leave the Earth Behind You and Take a Walk Into the Sunshine” is wonderful, with keyboards-as-strings and a driving beat.

The Best Thing About This Album

Jesus. I don’t know. The brogue? The song titles? The polar bear? Let’s go with “A Day in Space” and assume you understand that you should listen to this entire album repeatedly.

Release Date

2002 in the US, but 2001 in the UK

The Cover Art

Disappointingly boring. I expected much more from this band. In fact, it’s so pedestrian and lazy, I have to hope it was intentionally so. But I doubt it.

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