Martin White used to be in a band called Scarlet’s Well with Bid from the Monochrome Set. If you like either of those bands, you should treat yourself to “The Hero’s Journey” by Martin’s band The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra.
Apart from being a rather hilarious band name, it quite exactly describes the music on offer. Nonsensical and very English but in an unusually maximalist way. Musically that means daft disco, constipated funk, jazzy interludes, music hall, 50s rock, orchestral workouts, narrated poetry – and some pop of the Nirvana “Story of Simon Simopath” type. Use anything you can: and when you can’t, cover it up with many words and much singing. All a bit (Mike) batty, but in a good way.
“The Hero’s Journey” – just like previous album “Master Flea” – is dramatised seemingly like a soundtrack to an imagined musical. The subject matter is Joseph Campbells hero monomyth, that is, the underlying template for all hero adventure stories.
Consequently, there is an abundance of far away places, magic, love, goddesses, beasts and adversaries to play around with in lyrics like “You need nine heads at least / to topple the beast / and get the lion’s share”. Perfect fodder for a musical narrative.
When I interviewed Martin some years ago he had a 9 to 5 office job, and I can imagine him whiling away the endlessly empty office hours in front of staplers, fax machines and other office paraphernalia as fictive musicals play out in his mind’s eye. In this sense, “Master Of Two Worlds” might be a key track on the album:
“I’m the master of the fax machine
I’ve mastered keeping my desk clean
I can multitask and mostly get things right
And despite the photo copier
I copy something poppier
It’s a flyer for my gig on Wednesday night”
Just like the music, the production is also exactly what you could expect from the band name: expansive, flamboyant, even luxurious. If the Rutles sound like the Beatles, the MFMO sound like ELO; that is, first rate and classy also in those parts where it is intentionally tasteless. If you get my drift.
How on earth Martin manages to pull that through is beyond me, because, as far as I know, MFMO recordings are made on a budget that even cut out the shoestrings for cost reasons.
This album is a bit of a miracle, really. I have no idea where Martin and his mysteriously faxy friends find all the energy, or how they muster up all the silliness and sincerity needed for the herculean task of completing such an ambitious project.
One must be both foolhardy and brave to even attempt such a thing, and in that sense, I am starting to think of Martin White as one of my archetypal musical heroes in the monomythical sense. A master of two worlds, indeed!