The Sea Monkeys,
Waiting for the Flood
(self-produced, 2001)

It rained a lot throughout the United Kingdom last year. It seemed as if every river rose, and a good number of them flooded both their banks and the surrounding towns. Until foot and mouth's gloomy hand grasped hold of the media, rain and the subsequent floods dominated the news.

Recent rain has brought back those memories -- first by pictures in the news of the floods in Monmouth and then by the cover photographs on the SeaMonkeys' debut release. Waiting for the flood? Unfortunately, the pictures of submerged cars and houses show that Nottingham, the home of the SeaMonkeys, stopped waiting a while ago.

There are songs dealing with water on the CD. The opening track, "The Gulf of Mexico," has a bit of a skiffle sound to it. It's an upbeat tune sung to a person who has "a suitcase ... containing sand from every continent." Of course, later there are references to "Old Napoleon Boney" and Robert Maxwell, but the main refrain is that "you can take your boat and row it to the Gulf of Mexico/but it won't mean very much to me." There may not be incredible "deep meaning" in Andy Victor's lyrics, but he's written an upbeat tune with a traditional feel.

The SeaMonkeys are a duo comprised of songwriter Victor, who also plays guitar, bouzouki, bass and organ, and Nigel Bull on guitars, mandolin, whistle, harmonica, percussion, keyboards and bass. Between the two of them, they essentially are a two-man band. They don't go overboard on overdubs, however. For example, on the title track, the CD's second song, the instruments are limited to acoustic guitar and whistle. The arrangement is sparse, complementing the tone that gives us lyrics such as "a curse upon the wind and rain." There's a strong, steady beat -- almost like a march, and the mood is nicely cold yet compelling.

All the music is acoustic. While Victor has penned most of the songs, there definitely are traditional influences behind many of them. "Lisbon" is a traditional song Bull and Victor arranged. Their tune initially sounds too much like that of "Waiting for the Flood" -- luckily, the two songs are not back to back. Track seven is split into two parts. First is the traditional instrumental tune "Whitehaven Volunteers," followed in the medley by Victor's "Stephen Jones." Victor's tale of Jones, "a Geordie boy" who volunteers to fight against the Kaiser, has all the qualities of a traditional ballad, emphasizing the point that, indeed, war is hell.

There are contemporary-sounding songs, but even they possess an "older" feel. There's a slight '60s folk feel in "First Train out of Lincoln." A bright, bumpy chorus makes "Earthbound" sound like an upbeat pop tune, but the verses are deadly serious. "Sixteen stitches to his head/for sixteen years of misery," Victor sings. "One Day," the closing track, is probably as close as the band comes to a poignantly penned love song. It has a slow, lazy alternative pop feel even when Victor's voice goes oh-so-slightly off-key on what seem to be a couple of carefully chosen notes. It's not affected, nor is it too bothersome. Instead, it sounds earnest.

There's been a lot of talk in the UK the past year or so about the "new acoustic" movement, as if it just suddenly sprang out of Zeus's head. What happens to those players who have been plucking away at acoustic music for years, without the benefit of this new label? The SeaMonkeys appear to be one of the answers.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 23 March 2002