The Vichy Government, Micropenis

Ed James 19/07/2008

The Portland Arms was sparsely populated for the launch of the Vichy Government's third LP "White Elephant." A trestle table bedecked with unwanted bric-a-bric limned the venue's right wall, boasting various discarded CDs, chocolates and magazines that augmented our haul from the day's record fair at the Guildhall.

The first act, Um, was about as entertaining and engaging as his name implied. Given a pirated copy of Fruityloops and a spare afternoon, anyone could have produced the lumpy, glitchy backing that underpinned the deep-voiced wafflings of a man who just couldn't be bothered to put on a show. There was a bit of badinage that involved a print of Chairman Mao. There was a song called "Cocaine Jihad", for Christ's sake. A bit of "Britannia Hospital" starring Malcolm Mcdowell played in the backgroud which only encouraged me to explore the McDowell / Anderson oeuvre in more detail.

Micropenis (advertised in some sources as Maximo Penis) were dire. A woman shouts that she wanted to be alone as a bloke with smudged make-up cavorts close at hand. This is a band who clearly believe that using the word "riot" makes them the epitome of radical chic. Mao's face was on display here too, dragging the audience into the 21st century with its meaningless slogans and ironic veneration of tyrants. This went several leagues beyond satire.

Herein lies the difference between the Vichy Government and lesser breeds of iconoclasts. The imagery that will serve as a bit of shock fluff from the tiresome runts in support, will form the basis of an entire song in the hands of Jamie Manners and Andrew Chilton. They work within a basic blueprint; Manners takes to the stage cloaked in an carapace of irony and weaves a variety of polemical structures over Chilton's Yamaha beats and keys.

For those who don't know them, Oxford spoken-word artiste George Pringle operates in a field that is sonically similar; but while Pringle sketches solipsistic diagrams, each Vichy song sticks rigorously to mining the selfishness and misery that imbues personal and political power struggles. Their set begins with a startling five-minute monologue where Manners narrates the circumstances of his own putative suicide, passage into afterlife and speculative conclusion that hell is here on earth. The lyrics don't necessarily bear transcription; so much of their appeal is bound up in the iciness of their delivery, the hollow reverberations of the keyboards. The idler's fantasy "Suspended on Full Pay" is the best anti-work song not to be written by Luke Haines. Indeed, this is what Haines himself might describe as "right-field"; challenging music that explores a perverse fascination with the squalor and glamour at both the summit and the foot of the political power structure. "The Loneliest Man in Ancient Rome" considers the plight of Mannero, a Roman satirist so successful that he inherits the laurels of office himself only to end his days "slumped dead on the throne", a victim of his own hubris.

In terms of musicians that have a definable worldview and operate within the confines of a genuinely alternative (and sometimes maddening) microcosm, these men cannot be touched. It is a pity only that neither music nor the splendid venue are not better appreciated by a greater number of Cambridge citizens. Someone ought to have words.