This is the first album in what seems like aeons from Southport’s Paul Sumner. In fact it’s his first album since the solo debut, ‘A World Of Horses’, from 2006; a record which was described here as being “strong on heart-on-sleeve sentiment”. Much like that record and many artists from the North West of England, themes of melody, innocence and nostalgia are writ large over ‘That Ladybird Summer’.
There are tunes here that a milkman would whistle. In fact, the first song, ‘Our Milkman Is The Morning’, is just that, complete with children’s chorus. Similarly, ‘Let’s Go And Play’ and ‘Picture Book’ are happy, singalong songs which wouldn’t sound out of place on Mark Wirtz’s ‘Teenage Opera’ soundtrack. ‘Pauline Curry Swore’ and ‘News At Ten’ bask in dreamy atmospheres whilst Sumner’s soothing tones fit in remarkably smoothly; it’s at this stage where the album seems to be growing up, both in subject matter and the mature, less child-friendly arrangements.
Perhaps the most poignant lyric arrives on ‘Remember Village Life?’ where the songwriter intones “There’s something pure and honest there. I can feel it in my bones”. It’s a really comfy slipper moment on a record which has warmth in abundance and it sums up the album in a couple of sentences too.
The excellent ‘Soul Love’ will draw inevitable comparisons with The Lotus Eaters, thanks to the glistening, chiming guitar refrain and Sumner’s falsetto. Then comes the twelve-minute finale, ‘The Battle For Barney’s Farm’, an ambitious suite, if you will, and one which finds the right balance between emotion, guitar solos and the inevitable big psych finish and fade-out.
Those familiar with XTC’s similarly whimsical album ‘Skylarking’ will appreciate ‘That Ladybird Summer’ and it’s surely no coincidence that XTC man Dave Gregory features on a couple of the songs. Yet it’s Sumner himself who is the real star here and his Utopian vision based on growing up in an English village has resulted in a really charming and colourful album.
Mark Wirtz, XTC