I remember watching the TV series ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ with my parents as a kid back in the 70s. In the parallel nostalgiverse that Papernut Cambridge inhabits, we now get ‘Outstairs Instairs’ instead.
Inevitably, I am transported into a pre-teen room around the year 1974. There are posters of pop stars taken from glossy colour magazines on the walls; Marc Bolan, Elton John, David Essex, Abba, Alvin Stardust… Two of the room’s walls are painted orange, the other two brown. Opposite the bed, there is a desk with a plastic turntable, one of those portable things with the speaker in the lid. It is playing ‘Co-Co,’ an earlier single by the Sweet. A pair of wide-flared jeans hang over the back of a chair, and by the closed door there’s a pair of purple platform shoes.
Is it my room? Maybe, but these images are only half-remembered, and Ian Button’s Papernut Cambridge are not about pastiche.
Although seemingly radio-friendly, most of ‘Outstairs Instairs’ might never bother the airwaves; the lyrics are too explicit, although not in a way that would get them banned.
Instead, for example, the refrain on ‘Not Even Steven’ goes: “I remember something Steven said, sometimes the butter is too hard for the bread.” Not really hit material. These songs are too abstruse, and too full of complications. To put it in 70s terms: too much of 10CC’s ‘I’m not in love’ and too little of Ricky Wilde’s ‘I am an astronaut’.
In a sense, this is easy listening made hard.
But just to prove the rule, there are some standout exceptions. Toy-town pop opener ‘Buckminster Fullerene’ could easily have been on Top of the Pops. A band like Paper Lace would have killed for its instantly memorable bubblegum refrain and singing-drummer friendly beat.
The catchy wordplay of ‘Mr Shimshiner’ might not have the same instant hit potential, but is another lovely ditty that should have been on an A-side sometime in the early 70s.
But this is now and not then, and Papernut Cambridge continue to sound like nothing else around. The arrangements are generous and beautifully played, with nice details to discover, from piano embellishments to crying saxes. Although often being labelled ‘psych’ there is honestly nothing psychedelic here. Sometimes, their music is even called ‘power pop’, but there is thankfully no need for extra power to make these songs take flight.
Instead, what we get is soft and slightly introverted glam pop. Classy stuff that you absolutely must hear.
And this time, you just might want to get the analogue version. The LP has an outstairs and an instairs side in the sense that one side plays from the inside and then out whereas the other side plays normally. Nice!