Jesus At The Gay Bar (Believe)
AS MUCH AS POP MUSIC IN ITS PURE FORM is about representing extreme ends of our emotion – principally joy, especially in love or lust, but necessarily its opposite, in despair or hurt – there is richer territory to be explored just short of either end. Richer in the sense that the subtleties are more in play for variation, and the potential to go further sits there, tantalisingly.
Cub Sport’s musical territory has been shifting for a few albums now, from guitar indie leanings and a tendency to go where Savage Garden travelled, to this record’s culmination of an electro dance immersion. Along the way – Catalyst? Reaction? – has been the shift from regular song topics to the full strength outpouring of the band’s internal (and for a while secret) love affair, between singer/principal writer Tim Nelson and keyboardist Sam Netterfield.
As Nelson sings here, in a track that rises like joy, cruises like pleasure and throws up regular moments of careful euphoria, “I write songs about it/And they’re all about you”.
If Nelson, Netterfield, multi-instrumentalist Zoe Davis and drummer Dan Puusaari repeated that euphoria across the provocatively titled Jesus At The Gay Bar (a reference to a Jay Hulme poem, but also an immediate reminder to bigots that the holy beardy bloke’s original message was inclusive not repulsive), we’d be just fine. Better than fine actually, right from the start with the burst of updated House that is Always Got The Love and its smooth ride on time.
Incontrovertibly, dancing to Jesus At The Gay Bar is very easy to do. High For The Summer slips on something of a hyper-pop coat over a friendly jungle drum pattern and skitters about friskilly, Hold channels ‘80s pop through ‘90s R&B like a certain M Jackson meeting a young B Knowles, and the aforementioned Songs About It throws its escalating piano into club electronica with glee.
Yet each of those songs, at least as much as the more emotionally and sonically fragile Yaya, or the low horizon ballad, Zoom, contain within them an element that you wouldn’t call solemn, but definitely feels like a balancing subtext. And it’s a winning move because what really elevates this record is the suggestion of a tempering of the undoubted joy, a light holding hand on the many ways of love.
Some of it comes in the context of queer love in a not exactly friendly environment, take the way Keep Me Safe looks back on an early attempt to deflect attention by faking a girlfriend and dying hair black, wasted years that linger as an aftertaste. Some of it is in the way Nelson’s voice can’t shake entirely its notes of inherent melancholy. And some of it is probably down to the fact that music of desire and satisfaction (that is, love) contains within it the seeds of its demise – or maybe that’s just me and lingering Catholic guilt and insecurity.
Either way, if Jesus was to show up at this gay bar – to quote Hulme, “robes hitched up to his knees/to make it easy to spin” – he’d not have to explain himself, nor his enjoyment, nor his love or his quiet fears: we’d get it.
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Cub Sport – Jesus At The Gay Bar