The old adage is that debut albums always take the longest time to write, because more often than not there’s been ten years of scribbling lyrics in school textbooks, playing shows where the band members outnumber the audience and practicing the riff to Sweet Child O’ Mine until your fingers bleed, although in hindsight that last one may have just been me. Certainly, the rest is true for Davey Newington, songwriter and mastermind of Boy Azooga, whose songs have been developing for years before the eventual record deal with Heavenly Recordings and the release of 1, 2, Kung Fu! and in a way it shows. Newington has expressed in interviews a heady love of all music, enthusing about everyone from William Onyeabor to Black Sabbath, and the album reflects that; it’s the sort of project that could only have come from one person’s sonic experimentation and that is both to its credit and its detriment.
Opening track Breakfast Epiphany (and its follow up, the radically titled Breakfast Epiphany II) is an airy introduction with robotic synth notes and rolling, fingerpicked guitar chords that underpin the sweet vocal melodies. The seamless transition into the surging garage punk of Loner Boogie is testament to the care Newington has put into these songs. As the outrageously catchy fuzz riff tears through the track, the following funky swagger of Face Behind Her Cigarette- which caught the ear of Radio 1 when it was released last year- is where the influences start to collide together. There’s a flavour of early hip-hop in the shuffling bass and drum lines as well as a psychedelic leaning in the heavily echoing guitar notes that ring out in the verses. The instrumental Walking Thompson’s Park is equally blissful with sweet, crisp guitar chords and soft drum fills as Davey pitches up and sings delicately, ‘seems like waiting is all I do’.
Another transition brings us to Jerry, the third single from the record and a fine testament to Newington’s prowess as a songwriter. The chord progression is superb, slightly melancholic but with such a strong sense of melody that its impossible not to hum along to. It’s almost Brian Wilson-esque in its structure and I don’t say that lightly. Lyrically too there’s a yearning from Newington as he calls in the chorus ‘where did you go to get that smile?’ and later in the bridge, ‘I’m just happy to be the shadow walking in your light’ but the rhythm laid out by the drums and the bass keeps things irrevocably catchy and upbeat. From Breakfast Epiphany II, the strutting intro of Taxi To Your Head, complete with another zipping guitar riff and a super danceable groove of toms and cowbells, completely takes over the song and the instrumental break is just joyous as washes of synthesiser chords rush into the mix. Quite honestly, the chorus riffs are something I wish I could have put my name to, they’re the perfect marriage of psych rock and funk.
Losers in the Tomb is a more mellow affair with video-game synth notes and a dreamy lilt to Newington’s vocals. It takes the pace down a little to accommodate the following ballad of Hangover Square. More charming, delicately picked guitar chords float over the tasteful percussive backing as the lyrics address loss and longing- ‘how can someone like you be so difficult to find?- as Newington’s Dad, a classically trained violinist, solos mournfully in the middle of the track. This all culminates in the slow wind-up to closing track Sitting On the First Rock From the Sun. There are bluesy but slightly menacing guitar chords and lines in the intro and verses, shrouded in reverb as a snare and tambourine ring cuts through the gloomy melodies. Then suddenly another fuzzed up head-banging riff comes out of nowhere and kicks off the stoner-rock outro jam of crashing drums, thunderous bass and those thrilling guitars. I actually wish it went on a bit longer, and hearing the band drag the outro out live is a pleasure to watch as it all disappears in a wail of feedback and synthetic noise.
Boy Azooga is, without doubt, the singular product of Davey Newington’s musical experimentation; and that airy, wide-eyed love of melody and genre is present all over 1, 2, Kung Fu! What does hold the album back slightly is that its strength is also its weakness, for me at least. Newington manages to make the tracks feel like they’re part of a contiguous whole with the neat and seamless transitions, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this melting pot of influences does boil over at times (Loner Boogie in particular stands out almost awkwardly compared to some of the other tracks on offer, even though it is a great song). But really these are nit-picks and I don’t want them to detract from the fact that this is a vibrant and well-constructed debut and another great addition to the Heavenly Recordings family. If 1,2, Kung Fu! is anything to go by, where Newington decides to go next is anyone’s guess, and I for one look forward to being wrong-footed.