Cornershop – England is a Garden

The precious few who remember Cornershop probably do on the strength of their 1997 hit “Brimful of Asha.” Sadly, that fine track doesn’t even reflect their best work – for that, check out 1995’s Woman’s Gotta Have It the British band’s most sublime melding of Punjabi and western grooves.

The remarkable fact is that the duo of Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres never truly went away. They dabbled in side projects and occasionally took their sweet time between releases, and the broader public simply stopped paying attention. Which is a shame, because Singh and Ayres could still pump out a worthwhile album like 2009’s Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast – along with some lousy ones. Their last outing, Hold On It’s Easy, was an ill-conceived easy listening remake of their not-great debut.

Like Lemon, the new England is a Garden arrives after an extended stretch to allow new material to germinate. And it shows – Garden marks Cornershop’s best work in ages. The duo seems to have dropped its pursuit of a musical hybrid, settling in instead as purveyors of light psychedelia with an airy groove and world music flourishes. The closest comparison point is probably another crew of British oddballs from their heyday – the Beta Band.

One attention getter is “Everywhere That Wog Army Roam,” a reasonably faithful updating of Norman Watson’s 1973 reggae side “Peeping Tom” retrofitted with topical lyrics (I don’t see Watson credited, but assume someone’s getting royalties). A song about minority youth hassled by the police – in the original it’s a “rasta army” – “wog” is something approaching the n-word in British vernacular. Singh, a dark-skinned man of Indian descent, has made a point of co-opting it throughout Cornershop’s catalog – reclaiming the term in a rap-like tactic.

The politics are subtler elsewhere. “Cash Money” chugs along amiably on a boogie vibe hinting at T. Rex, then “I’m a Wooden Soldier” quickly follows, blowing any doubt of influences out of the water. Next comes “One Uncareful Lady Owner” and the best use of sitar in a rock song this millennium, not to mention a spot-on homage to Beatles production. George Harrison is certainly smiling somewhere. John Cusack too.

England is a Garden
[Ample Play]