The Return Of The Mail-Order Bridegroom - Ed Kuepper (Prince Melon)
"There is a lot of junk on the radio, take a look if you don’t know,” Ed Kuepper declares on the opening track of “The Return of The Mail Order Bridegroom”. The mood is reflective and stripped-back with the acoustic chords ringing in an underpinning soundscape.
Ed’s solo career over the last 30 years has been prolific, emerging from the dust and legacy of arguably one of the world’s great proto-punks bands, The Saints, who were way too cool and intelligent for Old Blighty, and continuing with the magnificent direction that that he took his music with Laughing Clowns.
His solo career has taken many twists and turns as well as detours like The Aints and reissues of the Laughing Clowns back catalogue. And there’s been a long list of limited edition mail order records – hence pun in this album’s title.
Those in the know do know that Ed is The Man.
“Hey Joe” is a standard for every good busker and sets the mood of an old blues foot stomp with an ambience of reverb. I sense that this song that Ed learnt as kid: maybe it’s important in his own reflection. Shimmering acoustic guitar with Ed’s lucid drawl (which improves with age.) Like Lou Reed or Joe Strummer, he works within its range and yet manages to be so melodic.
“No Regret” is a sad and emotive cover of ‘60s folk singer Tom Rush. It’s deadening, sad and remorseful. Listening to Rush’s original, Kuepper version is even more melancholy, taken to a edge of the cliff face.
It is the original material that really shines. The covers are an added bonus. “Swing For The Crime” is one hell of a song, and one of the Saints’ best. We’re treated to a stripped down, slower version that’s reflective with acoustic guitars underpinning lyrics that are chewed around and explored. This is followed by “Cypress Grove Blues” which is dirty Delta blues with slide. Dark.
“Eternally Yours” is the masterful Laughing Clowns song that originally was a full throttle with bellowing saxophone. It’s stripped back down to ambience, an acoustic tapestry of warmth. With guitars and those poignant words, the song was always a signature tune for Ed, and he again breathes a refreshing new take into its classic melody.
The album ends where it all begins with “Messin’ With The Kid” from the Saints’ debut album, reworked to a folk tradition. A powerful reflection on the intense early Saints, it’s a far cry from the Gibson SG blaring through a vocal PA. It makes sense that Ed would want explore these songs again and really get to the heart and soul of them. This version of “Messin’” moves away from the original sonic assault and one finger attack which was rebelling against the quaint glam pop of Countdown and 12-bar boogie bands. The early Saints always had amazing songs behind the attitude.
Yes, there is a lot of junk on the radio: I don’t need to take a look, as they don’t seem to play Ed Kuepper’s music anymore on the airwaves. This is a magnificent album, not only for fans but for those who want introduction to Ed’s Music. Every home should own a copy. - Edwin Garland
You won’t like it, they said. They were wrong. At the same time, there’s a sense that this time out, Sir Edmund is cruising just a touch and that this one’s strictly for the converted.
Re-visiting his past is nothing new for Kuepper and the title is a dead giveaway. This album’s forebear, “I Was A Mail-Order Bridegroom”, was initially a limited edition, mail-order only release on Hot Records way back in 1995 - back when this Internerds thing was just gaining a head of steam. My memory is you had to stick a stamp on an envelope and post off a cheque for that one. It was 16 tracks and shimmering, acoustic renditions of familiar songs, recorded at what was then Ed’s second home, Electric Avenue, with the gifted Phil Punch behind the console.
Fast-foward to 2014 and there are many parallels. Ed is back at the scene of his last studio effort, QUT Gasworks Studio in his hometown Brisbane, producing himself with the almost as legendary John Wilsteed giving an assist. It’s again a mix of covers (obvious and obscure) and originals, rendered in that droll Kuepper style, with minimal instrumentation other than a 12-string guitar and voice.
The concept is drawn from a recent tour where Kuepper did shows in stripped-back configuration. Unsurprising then that the sound is close-mic’ed and very much alive. Ed’s vocals are expressive and full - a world removed from his sometimes strangulated Laughing Clowns days. Not that I don’t like vocalists who sing like guitar players. Stripped of effects, Kuepper’s fretboard work is masterfully good. Of course, songs like “Eternally Yours” and “Messin’ With The Kid” hold up in bare bones form. “Swing For The Crime” is especially great.
The Walker Brothers’ “No Regrets” resonates in Kuepper’s hands and “The Way I Made You Feel” never gets old. “Hey Joe”, I can take or leave, regardless of who’s playing it, but “All Of These Things” still nails its colours to the mast as a classic piece of songwriting.
As good a solo bluesman as he makes, I have to admit I’d walk across hot coals to get an earful of Ed blasting away at stun volume in front of a balls-out engine room (like the one that backed him in The Aints) or ploughing fertile new rows of creativity in an ensemble like the Clowns. This CD’s been getting plenty of play-time, but something that explored new directions would almost certainly grab more. A no risk purchase but it doesn't take many, either. - The Barman