Professor Elemental and His Amazing Friends
Released: 1st December 2016
Length: 36 minutes
Available from: Professor Elemental's website
I first came across Professor Elemental somehow on YouTube six years ago as my Facebook's "On This Day" tells me.
I have no idea how I came across it, but The Prof's track "Fighting Trousers" was my (and I suspect many others') introduction to the world of Chap-Hop; hip-hop in the style of an old-fashioned English gent, and Elemental as one of it's more eccentric and best known proponents.
Steampunk doesn't have a specific musical style, but I can think of few artists more fitting to steampunk than live staple, Professor Elemental.
In his pith-helmet and khaki explorer gear, Elemental's persona veers hilariously between experienced, knowledgeable guide to the strange world of his albums, and dangerously clueless halfwit.
There's a sense in his albums that science and adventuring is being done "properly" by others beyond the music, but that The Prof. didn't have the patience for all that nonsense (and they didn't want him in their club), so he grabbed a spanner, nicked some old broken parts and cobbled together his own airship.
I was a fan immediately and several years, several live gigs, a few albums, a drawing or two and even once performing on-stage, dressed as a gentleman chimpanzee, with the man himself and here I am reviewing his latest album.
Good Inclusive Fun!
Described by Elemental as, "a collection of collaborations, remixes, and rarities", and with its comparitively short running time, this album doesn't feel as complete as his other albums, particularly if you're familiar with them; for example, some tracks have references to longer narratives from the albums they were taken from, but that's not to say this album is short on quality. It rather feels like a breather between albums, and a teaser of what's to come next.
As the title suggests, "Professor Elemental and His Amazing Friends" features different collaborators such as Mr Frisbee, Nick Maxwell, and Bill Evans, and also including regular collaborator Tom Caruana.
Fun is always at the forefront of Elemental's comedy albums, featuring spoken word sketches, and ingeniously rhymed raps over beats mashed together with throwback music including honky tonk, ska, and swing and that is true of this album too.
There are tales of adventures in space and time, robots, aliens, taxidermy, Barry Gibb, crazy tea parties resembling menageries, and preposterously epic battles, often interupted by oddities such as loose horses and hat thieves.
However, for all the antics, what strikes me most about this album, is that there is less of the battles, and such a strong focus on inclusion and celebrating oneself and each other, and rather than coming over as mushy or preachy it is lovely!
Mid-way through the album, the remix track "All In Together" is an unashamed call for every listener to love themselves for all their quirks, leanings, and oddities.
In a genre such as hip-hop, which can be quite prescriptive in its aspirational lyrics, this is so refreshing - something the earlier track "Bare Witness" outright acknowledges and claims as a statement of intent over a funk-rock bassline.
These same ideas pop up on "More of What You Asked For" - the first proper track on the album and the call for all to join in with the Prof's brand of silliness and fun accompanied by funked up beats and swing jazz woodwind.
They surface again on "All You Can Eat" where, following a honky-tonk piano introduction, Elemental lays out his endearing and geeky hopes and aspirations, and on "Theme Music" - the last proper tack on the album.
From the artist Professor Elemental, who has recently been rather vocal on issues such as cyber-bullying, this isn't at all surprising.
Video for "Inn at the End of Time"
Elsewhere, there is plenty of the Fantastical...
"Mechtoria", based on Doktor A's wonderful figurines, jaunts along at a brisk pace, reminding you that for all the silliness, Elemental is actually a gifted lyricist and rapper, as it chronicles the rise of a planet populated by mechanical life-forms, bookended by tea and crumpets.
"Inn at the End of Time", a remix from Elemental's previous time-travelling concept album, gathers together a whole host of time-travellers from popular culture in a bustling bar-room, and it is a real joy to see how many of the references you catch.
"101 Questions" poses some questions that while silly at first listen, can become rather profound if you think about them. One such question, "When is too much the same as never enough?" is cleverly answered with a lyrical throwback just two tracks later in the hangover track, "The Wages of Gin".
You Should Be Dancin', Yeah!
There's more to discover on this album, but I would like to finish by mentioning the track that surprised me the most; "The Bee Gees Ain't Got Nothing on Me".
Starting with a funky beat that struts along through the whole number, this track is a high-pitched homage to and gentle ribbing of The Gibb Brothers, with my favourite line being;
"Bright white teeth, got a lovely smile | We're the Bee Gees I'm Barry Gibb | Head of hair so lush I want to marry it!"
Why do pigeons have holes, anyway?