Have we ever needed great storytellers so badly? Voices to snap us out of our collective grey funk, to pull us out of our narrow, hemmed-in worlds and to lighten our days and enlighten us with their perspectives, Immersing us in their worldview and history. People who can make us laugh, cry, gasp or nod sagely, to see our world anew and not feel so alone. We need stories, vignettes, new windows to look out of, and narrators to help those new visions make sense.
In short, we need Scott Lavene. Born and raised in Essex, but a man of the world who has wandered far and wide, Lavene’s a storyteller who can capture all the madness, joy and frustration of life while singing about worms writhing in the ground. Lavene’s been in bands since his teens, but only really located the voice that makes his new album Milk City Sweethearts so remarkable – that combination of wry observation, humble wisdom, unguarded vulnerability and unpredictable humour – in a music workshop for alcoholics and addicts, long after he’d bid farewell to childhood dreams of pop stardom, and the ghosts and demons that accompany those dreams.
He released an album as Big Top Heartbreak, 2016’s Deadbeat Ballads, and followed it with his first album under his own name, 2019’s droll and marvellous Broke. “I was signed to a little label in Bristol, but then they went skint,” he remembers. This time, however, the disappointment didn’t shake his confidence or his resolve. “I started writing prose, like ‘flash fiction’, and I’ve begun a novel,” he says. “And I’ve started some creative writing workshops for people who’ve come out of my situation.
Amid all this activity, the songs that became Milk City Sweethearts began to take shape. Lavene noticed the border between his prose and his songwriting beginning to become porous, and the album feels like a clutch of excellent short stories set to music. Without a label, he recorded the album at home, and assembled it in a week in his mum’s garage during lockdown’s heavy manners. It’s a warm, witty, charismatic record with a dark heart at the centre, Lavene sounding dislocated and therefore able to write his everyday stories with a left-handed brilliance and blunt honesty that keeps them so fresh, like classic Kinks, or David Bowie if he’d never had to go to space to feel otherworldly. His songs are talking blues, set to loose and minimal and excellent art-rock with a pop sensibility, the honk of Roxy sax and the guttural weird-funk of Ian Dury’s Blockheads haunting their grooves.
Across these tracks, he sings with couplets that are instantly memorable and invite endless decoding, like the moment in Toffee Tickler where he sings “Gravity had got us by the elbows, by the back of the knees”, or the moment in his Prince-like love song ‘You + Me’ when he pulls back the curtain on the magic and menace of the everyday, declaring “There’s spit upon the pavement / There’s secrets in the gutter”. It’s an album where one minute he’s indulging in hilarious dark comedy, holding up a funhouse mirror to our modern day freakshows (‘Roll Up’), and the next he’s breaking hearts with the luminous memories of young love in ‘Ballad of Lynsey’ (“We kissed on the bus, our brains fizzing with youth”) and all the ways in which that young love can so quickly be destroyed.
And when he stands gazing at worms writhing in the mud, he sees the maddening, contradictory entirety of himself, and all of us. “I have an extreme personality,” he says. “I can entertain a roomful of people, but what I mainly want to do is be alone. It’s an honest and poignant song, but it’s still really funny. I know I’m not the only person who feels that way. I’ve had people tell me my gigs made them laugh, and then moments later they wanted to cry. In the end, people want to feel things, don’t they?”
With his stories, Lavene makes us all feel a little less alone – he’s that voice in our ear who always has a tale more weird, more tragic, more funny than our own, but in whose experiences we can see our own. Laughter, tears, madness and redemption reside within this magical songs, the full spectrum of existence. You’d be a fool to miss out.
02. The First Time
03. The Earth Don’t Spin
04. Lord of Citrus
05. The Toffee Tickler
06. The Ballad of Lunsey
09. Walk Away
10. Roll Up
11.Say Hello To Zeus