Music Review: Haircut 100, Pelican West

Published on March 16th, 2016 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reissues, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher


It is a well-known, scientific fact that Haircut 100’s debut album, Pelican West, is the happiest album that ever existed (I just made that up, but hear me out). It’s full to the brim with sunny melodies, bold bursts of brass, and a weird but genius marriage of tropicalia and funk, with a dash of jazz thrown in. It’s a stunner of a debut, a fully-formed, exactly perfect right out of the gate album. It’s crushing, then, that by the time Haircut 100 returned to the studio to record a followup, the band was in tatters. Lead singer Nick Heyward had one foot out the door on his way to a solo career. Haircut 100 soldiered on, but it just wasn’t the same.

But let’s not think about that right now. Let’s instead focus on Pelican West: Deluxe Edition. This two-disc reissue has bonus tracks and a full disc of remixes, previously unavailable tracks, and extended versions, all taken from the original master tapes. It’s so incredibly wonderful. It’s as great as you remember, and possibly better.

Pelican West explodes with vitality from the opener, “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl).” With a nervy splash of horns, electrifying conga playing, a little monkey interlude, and lyrics I had to look up, it’s an amazing kickoff that immediately grabs attention. I realized as I listened that perhaps I had never actually understood the words to songs on Pelican West, despite listening to them literally hundreds of times. It comes down to the absolute curiosity that is Nick Heyward’s diction. The lyrics for “Marine Boy” were indecipherable to me, but that doesn’t mar the track. The catchy rhythm guitar burbles below gorgeous sax from Phil Smith. His sax, again, on “Lemon Firebrigade” is lovely, and the brass just soars. It’s soothing jazz with a rambling bass line, but also that magical British funk of the 1980s, with a sophisticated use of polyrhythms.

The sheer funk of Haircut 100 is always a surprise. “Kingsize (You’re My Little Steam Whistle)” has so much going on: a beautifully bright marriage of guitar and congas, throbbing bass, a magnificent strut. It’s textured and glorious. The band is tight. “Baked Bean,” too, is tight and funky as anything. The percussion is stellar. Heyward’s charming “whoop!” is almost as delightful as the perfectly odd line, “Cry/begin to.”

“Love Plus One” will always be remembered as a massive hit for Haircut 100, and it is furiously cheerful. A shining, urgent hit of tropicalia/funk, it was seemingly engineered for maximum happiness. The jazzy duet of horns that glide together on the fade out is pure class.

My favorite track on Pelican West has to be the delightfully weird “Calling Captain Autumn.” The song is like the distillation of Pelican West and Haircut 100. It’s a little silly, but it’s funky and fun. There’s harmony, a bubbling bass line, odd sound effects, a dash of cheekiness, and some amazing conga playing. Marc West is an MVP of Pelican West. There are two other versions of the track, the special extended version and the genius 12” mix.

The 12” mixes and extended removes never get tiresome on this version of Pelican West. They always add a new depth and dimension to old favorites. The included live version of “Fantastic Day” is well worth a listen.

Pelican West is eccentric and eclectic, and one wonders how an album like this would be marketed today. It’s impossible to be cross while listening to Haircut 100, and certainly more people could benefit from a hit of unabashed happiness. I had wondered how Pelican West would hold up for me, as it was an absolute favorite of mine growing up. I’m happy to report, it’s even better than I remembered.

Haircut 100’s Pelican West will be released March 18 on Cherry Red Records


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