There’s a famous stage direction used by William Shakespeare in The Winter’s Tale, where the Sicilian Lord Antigonus meets his unfortunate offstage end with the sentence “Exit, pursued by a Bear“. It’s a strange end for a nobleman, and one that would have had the stalls and cheap seats in the Globe in raptures, provided of course that the bear in question (there’s a good chance that real ones may have been employed, thanks to Londoners’ appetites of the time being somewhat demanding of the creatures either fighting or dancing - more chance a bear than a woman at the time, for certain) was very well-behaved and not inclined to attack the audience. I mention this not only because of the ursine link between this album’s title and a note in one of Shakespeare’s more complex plays, but also for a general Jacobean theme and a shared delight in comedie, tragedie, romance and the joy of playing to the galleries.
“We’re more of the love, blood, and rhetoric school. Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can’t give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory. They’re all blood, you see. ”
The King Player, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
The above quote from Tom Stoppard’s play within a play (it takes place in and around Hamlet), and rather nicely sums up the Moulette’s ethos and performance. My getting hold of their self-titled debut from 2010 was a result of a blind buy, and their salty tales immediately won me over to the extent that buying this follow-up was a complete no-brainer. In the intervening period, it would appear that the already-large ranks of the band has expanded further, with eight of them appearing in the main photo (including Mumford & Son’s Ted Dwane, once a full-time Moulette and returning here on helper-outer duties), plus a further nine guests credited with a multitude of musical and vocal combinations. So it’s not that much of a surprise that the sound has expanded accordingly, with acoustic guitar and percussion taking a more central role than before and all those extra vocal chords put into good use for some huge harmonies.
The blood that flows through The Bear’s Revenge largely manages to stay within the body this time, with matters of the heart taking precedence over those of the viscera, the various musicians being guided by a gentler hand through Songbird, Muse Has Wings and the hammered dulcimer of Half-remembered Song, all passionate in their own wistful way. The Moulettes still bite though, opener and lead single Sing Unto Me bounces along cheerfully, Unlock The Door with its Mighty Boosh-esque pre-chorus crimping, strong pop hooks and a viciously driving instrumental passage and The Revenge Of The Bear itself (an instrumental with notes explaining the vibrant cover art) all curl back their lips to expose the teeth within.
The best is saved for the last though, preceded by the joyous Grumpelstiltskin’s Jig that leads into the dirge of Circle Song which in turn merges with the spooky and seductive closer Blood And Thunder, joined by Liz Green to further bolster the vocals, which really come into their own during this slow-boiling crescendo of a track, showcasing the not inconsiderable songwriting, arranging and performing talents of the group as it takes the listener through a series of high points before ending on an ethereal note, fading out over the course of the album’s final minute.
The Bear’s Revenge may place the Moulettes firmly in the Jacobean fringes of the current British folk scene thanks to their choice of instruments, rhythms and of the styles and subjects of the prose and poetry that are so well employed throughout, but this is truly A Good Thing thanks to the fun and colour they put into their work. Certainly well-recommended – and now that they’ve got the blood and romance out of the way with their first two albums, I for one look forward to a trilogy of the histories of Regal Houses which may or may not follow.
The Bear’s Revenge is available from the usual suspects, as well as from their own store.
Exit, pursued by a Hangover!