It’s shite being Scottish, especially in winter when it’s dark by four o’clock, the streets freeze over and everyone is in a worse mood than usual. Thankfully we have the new album from The Just Joans, the self proclaimed ‘laziest band in Scotland’, to brighten up the dreich days and nichts. Modern life might be rubbish but You Might Be Smiling Now… finds glitter in the gutters of Glasgow.
Brother and sister duo Katie and David Pope have expanded the band in order to strengthen their previously quite lo-fi DIY sound. This can be heard in the opener O Caledonia, a classic indie pop gem, which has echoes of Helen Love and The Magnetic Fields. The song is about the innocence of childhood – when you’re wee you’ve still got optimism, like Scotland at the start of another World Cup qualifying campaign. In the end it’s the hope that kills you. You grow up and the years hold tears galore.
There’s a girl group shimmy to Steal the Keys (1996) a song about youthful freedom and dreaming of something better than ‘endless shite nights‘ in our ‘hopeless towns‘. Johnny Have You Come Lately? is a hilarious song about teenage pregnancy and all the gossip that ensues. Like Katie Pope’s album artwork, grim reality is painted with a beautiful blur of colour.
The cruel comedy of songs like You Make Me Physically Sick (Let’s Start Having Children) and Matter of Time is what makes this album so fun, after all such self-deprecating humour is a national trait. Some have compared this band to Belle & Sebastian or Camera Obscura but The Just Joans don’t take themselves that seriously.
I Only Smoke When I Drink sounds like The Ronettes having a fight with The Krankies. The video for the song depicts a drunken night out in Glasgow and hey if you haven’t thrown up thrown up on Sauchiehall Street then you’ve not really lived. ‘No Longer Young Enough‘ takes a sober look at the disco lights and realises with horror that sometimes you’re too old to dance the night away. Time passes, the places stay the same but age always catches up with you.
The songs on the second half of the album songs are mainly sung by David, highlights include hipster satire Read in Public Places and Biblically Speaking, a song about lust at first sight. The highlight of the whole album, however, is the genius britpop inspired song Sleeperbloke. For anyone who didn’t grow up listening to indie music in the 90s, Sleeper were a female-fronted band whose male members were so forgettably nondescript they were known collectively as ‘sleeperblokes’. Here Pope turns this into a love song where he wants to ‘stand in your shadow’ and ‘hold your coat while you steal the scene’. The sentiment is so sweet I near started greeting, especially when he sings ‘I’ve nothing much to offer you / just a bass guitar and a heart that’s true/ if you should ever need somebody.‘ And hey Louise Wener is still married to one of her Sleeperblokes so maybe inbetweeners do win sometimes.