Many of the tracks for this album have been available for some time, but Friday June 8th saw the official release of Matt Maltese’s debut album Bad Contestant. The tasters from this LP available on Spotify have been accompanied by the Genre label ‘Brexit Pop’ which frankly, made me want to gouge my own eyes out. Despite the ‘B’ word being the most used word in the current British lexicon, if it’s characterized by uncertainty, lack of clear direction, regretful decisions and a Hobson’s choice and ending with the worst of both worlds. Then ultimately there is no better way to describe the mordant lyrical content of this full length offering.
Album opener Greatest Comedian has the dry social observation of Jarvis Cocker and the smooth croon of Richard Hawley. The music is brilliantly produced by Foxygen’s Jonathon Rado and was recorded over the course of twelve days in his Los Angeles studio. With it’s rich backing of synths, Theremins (which seem to be making an overdue comeback) and a piano that reaches Old English Music Hall in places, it’s the perfect accompaniment to the sardonic musings of Maltese.
The title track Bad Contestant with its country sounding guitars and lounge piano, has a great sing along chorus and soulful backing vocals that you’ll be repeating for the rest of the day, while the Hammond Organ intro to Sweet 16 continues the music hall feel. Scott Walker inspired crooners seem to be ten a penny these days. We certainly don’t need another, but Matt Maltese really does bring something extra to the table. Like a Fish is a sorrowful ballad about drinking to numb the pain of heartache.
There is a real comical thread that runs through Maltese’s lyrics “I wish I could fill his shoes, but I’m only a 7” and he drops an early F Bomb that almost jolts you as it has maximum impact against his tender vocals. Nightclub Love is a jazzy, smoke filled number about puppy love for a hedonist who’s placed him firmly in the friend zone. A more straight up ballad comes our way in Less and Lessbut is still given a wry tweak. There’s a wonderfully build middle eight that again showcases Rado’s skills at the production desk. Misery tells the tale of a girl dying at the curbside after being hit by a truck on a bike ride, but is treated to a fuzz driven guitar that gives the sound of a Pink Floyd number.
On Strange Time, he sings of being too old for his age and this album does have the dark maturity of a gin soaked Tom Waits rather than a 21 year old lad from Reading. Especially singing of his yellow teeth and walk of shame regrets on Guilty. As The World Caves In, which imagines an apocalyptic love affair between Donald Trump and Theresa May “We’re gonna nuke each other up until Satan stands impressed” carries more truth in its comedy than many us would like to face up to. The apocalyptic tone continues on Mortalsto close the album out. A worthy orchestral finish about humanity bringing the earth to an environmental death while we constantly fret about the present. This is a real stand out album in all areas. Its lyrics are sharp and topical without being preachy. Its music is beautifully produced and interesting enough to stand apart from the usual crooner accompaniment. Matt Maltese and Rado, who deserves an enormous amount of credit on this, have truly given us an album and an artist for our time.