‘The Whole Buzz’ is book-ended by two off-the-cuff voice recordings. In the first recording the listener is greeted clumsily, before being beckoned to give the EP “an auld schpin”. This spontaneous Irishism tells you everything you need to know about The Scratch – a band that is irreverent, unpretentious, and unwaveringly Irish.
If you’re still not sure what to make of the band, the opener Cig In The Breeze quickly lays down the blueprint. The track starts with a lone acoustic guitar, picking out on intricate rhythm against an open string. The guitar is soon joined by a cajon, which beats a steady, escalating rhythm, building anticipation for the introduction of both an amplified bass and another acoustic guitar. The two instruments burst in with a mash of open chords and staccato bass thumps. Not every track follows this mould, but they do all revolve around these four core instruments. Eventually, we’re treated to the vocal hook: “Piss off and give your balls a wear.”
The prominent vocal hooks are noteworthy, as most of the songs on ‘Old Songs’ – the band’s debut EP – were instrumentals. This makes ‘The Whole Buzz’ The Scratch’s first major body of work to feature vocals front and centre. The band share lead vocals across the EP and needless to say, they rise to the occasion, alternating between a sandpaper growl and a light baritone. The rest of the band adapt accordingly, delivering mighty harmonies right out of a Discover Ireland commercial. Don’t be surprised to hear Head In The Sleeve playing over footage of rolling hills during an RTÉ ad break.
Unfortunately, the lyrics will be a deal breaker for some. The Scratch have always been unabashedly Irish, and have always been tongue-in-cheek pranksters, but these rogue elements are foregrounded through their lyrics. The humour is proudly vulgar and often insular – those from outside the Emerald Isle will want a translator. This is literally the case with the spectacular line: “Oh, you think you’re a big man, do you? / You look like a bean an tí, to me”.
The humour works best when it captures that timeless brand of humour that can only be Irish, like on the chorus to PJ, which celebrates the good-natured slagging upon which Irish society is built. At worst it casts too broad a net: ‘The Whole Buzz’ probably doesn’t need the Friend’s [TV Show] reference, or the easy reference to Electric Picnic. Regardless, you don’t need to appreciate every joke to enjoy the great storytelling. You really will want to know what lies behind the “scummy black walls” in Fooling Noone, and you will feel sympathy for the mouldy subject of Old Dog when you consider that maybe his “old man was a prick”.
Whether you roll your eyes or raise your pint to the lyrics, the music itself is always compelling. The band vary their palette enough to ensure each song is exciting. Once Fooling Noone has exhausted the possibilities of scratchy muted strings, Head In The Sleeve instils new purpose into the record with ringing guitar harmonics.
The instrumentals always impress, with the band expertly mining the niche between metal riffage and folksy foot-stomps. The choruses are powerful as well – sing-alongs Old Dog and PJ are practically begging to be chanted by a festival crowd. When all of these elements come together, like on Fooling Noone’s punishing closing riff, it’s easy to see how the band have achieved so much in only a couple of years.
“Okay so. That was it. Off with you. Slán.”
That was the complete transcription of the seemingly unrehearsed recording that closes the EP. The impression is that the band don’t take themselves too seriously, that ‘The Whole Buzz’ was whacked together over some pints, with little conscious intervention from the band. Listening to the music however, it is very clear that this isn’t the case – ‘The Whole Buzz’ is a clear demonstration of craft with a singular, if trashy, identity. Although, pints probably were involved.
Sidenote: The photos from the EP were originally shot for a GoldenPlec feature interview with The Scratch. Check out the full shoot and interview here!