I reviewed Andrew Fagan and the People’s Admiral of the Narrow Seas, their previous gem, for the Poetry Archive in 2011. Get Light from that disc is one of my all-time favourite Fagan pieces like Now You Know from his ’90s Blisters solo album.  Since then Fagan did a solo poetry/spoken word disc in 2018 and did gigs with UK performance poet John Cooper Clarke on his poetry tour to New Zealand.

Now Fagan and the People have returned after a 9-year absence with much good indie and low-fi tunes and there is anarchic fun behind it. I doubt they knew of the COVID-19 lockdown coming worldwide when the album was officially released in February 2020 but the inside photo of his band in full PPE gear fits the times as does the album’s title Act Normal. Well, we do try to.

The title track Act Normal is a good pub anthem and crowd pleaser on a Saturday night: “They’re almost here so scull your beer / Act normal …”. I would describe these latest tunes as uplifting, looking on the brighter side of life, “just endure it and you’ll be fine/ Just enjoy it and you’ll be fine.” (You’ll Be Fine). The track Someone More Gorgeous Than Me probably rivals Rod Stewart’s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy. No mean feat and just as funny as Stewart’s. Elsewhere Fagan’s songwriting gift comes to the fore again on tracks like Fuse to Ignite, which is a great piece of songwriting, unique and poetic. Darryn Harkness does solid work on guitar, keyboards and saxophone throughout and is a sound collaborator.

There is much variety here with harder edged tracks (Something’s Going to Happen) and slower pop/acoustic melodies (Move On), and the final track On Channel Me (a satire of celebrity living on social media and reality TV) comes in four versions. Take your pick: rock, low-fi, electro pop or dance/trance. I can imagine the dance/trance version of On Channel Me (“places to go and people to be … I’m on Facebook”) being approved of by John Lydon who teamed up with Leftfield back in the ’90s. I used to thrash their Open up, “burn Hollywood burn…” as a student dee-jay on Radio Active in Wellington.

Andrew Fagan and Jordan Luck have been my favourite two frontmen besides the likes of Shayne Carter and Martin Phillips. The Mockers still tour every two years around NZ, most recently with Midge Ure. The Mockers and Fagan’s best lyrics, My Girl Thinks She’s Cleopatra or One Black Friday, have always stood up to most in NZ, from Flying Nun to Finn Brothers, The Exponents to Dave Dobbyn.

Overall, Fagan and the People’s Act Normal is essential for these times we are in, and should give long-term fans much enjoyment as well as those new to his music. Don’t miss out on this one, and try to get yourself a copy of Admiral of the Narrow Seas, if you can.

CD reviewed by Mark Pirie for Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa website

Mark Pirie is a Wellington poet, publisher, PANZA member, and a former dee-jay on Active 89FM (1993-1996).  He has followed Andrew Fagan’s music and poetry closely since he first started listening to pop at age 11 in 1985 and counts himself a Fagan fan. He was the publisher of Fagan’s poetry book Overnight Downpour in 2006. PANZA owns and holds all four of Fagan’s slim volumes.