Borrowed Books – Altona
The most amusing thing about a pantomime horse is the necessity of having to shoot it twice. — Steve Aylett, Bigot Hall
Consider the pantomime horse: two people who share a single quadruped costume, enclosed within a relationship of dark and airless intimacy. The actors must maintain an optimal separation to ensure forward progress. Too close and they trip over themselves and fall into the gutter. Too far and the relationship comes apart at its literal seams.
The distance between the pantomime horse’s occupants is determined by the costume itself; once the souls enter the fabric shell they must conform to its design. Their primary input is the establishment of which end each will occupy. In an anatomically correct world, one is the head and the other is the far end. But today’s culture dictates a monstrosity with two heads and no tail.
With ‘Altona,’ Borrowed Books explores the space that divides two people trotting along within the same flannel disguise, and the emotional effort required to preserve the proper pace. The singer — apparently lagging in the anterior section — concludes that his partner should proceed without him. But in an addendum to the old It’s not you, it’s me chestnut, he considers his replacement and advises It’s not him either.
Don’t wait for me
I’ll never be
What you need me to be…
Don’t wait for him
He’ll never grow
‘Altona’ is one of those timelessly simple songs that remain a fan favorite long after flashier tracks have been forgotten. It could have been created forty years ago or remembered forty years in the future. The unhurried mid-tempo melody, the chords carried by the acoustic guitars, and the quietly browsing piano recall the best work of Bob Seger.
Based in Edinburgh, Borrowed Books is a bit of a minor supergroup, fronted by singer-guitarist Cam Fraser — formerly of The Cateran — and by ex-Miracle Legion guitarist ‘Mr. Ray’ Neal. The Borrowed Books Origin Story, as related in their Bandcamp biography, reads They were moseying along as a chronically underperforming punk rock trio until Mr. Ray joined them and made them stop killing their songs with unjustifiable noise. They maintain that they are still a punk rock band at heart, they just play it quieter now.
‘Altona’ appears on Borrowed Books’ new twelve-song album, Shorting Out and Longing. It’s an excellent collection, twelve well-written tracks that display the maturity of those who have passed through punk’s storm with their ears and their melodic sensibilities intact.