Curio pop songster Gregory Pepper has declared his brand new seventh album will be his last. No Thanks is dubbed a funeral march full of “brooding resentment and alienation bubbling below the sprightly melodies.” That does pretty much capture the tension that makes Pepper’s creative genius so alluring. His wild imagination runs to a kind of irony-deficient version of They Might be Giants while his messages seem to invert Jack Kerouac (‘that road just leads to disappointment!’). On this new release his tunes are routinely delightful, full of whimsy and striking instrumental adornments. And, as usual, the lyrics are dark, walking a fine line between sarcasm and sincerity. If No Thanks really is the swan songs of Gregory Pepper and his Problems then the vehicle is definitely going out on a high note.
The album opens with the deceptively buoyant “No Friends.” Here you have the Pepper formula – start simple and sparse but build out from there, in this case adding Quinn Martin whistly synth lines and a chorus of voices that eventually cascade into a Beach Boys big finish. “I Just Called to Say I Hate You” opens with a riff that sounds like a variation on Nik Kershaw’s “Wouldn’t It Be Good” but with added menace. “True Crimes” has a Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know” pop simplicity going on. Pepper seldom repeats himself but “Dadda” was a stand-alone single from 2019 that reappears here. It is an expert capture of the ennui of aging. “Never Have Never Will” sounds like slow motion Fountains of Wayne. I could go on, separating the madcap (“I Shit on Your Grave”) from the brooding (“Bad City Bus Ride”), but you really have to feel your way through this emotional no-fun fair for yourself. I will single out “I Miss Drugs” as the should-be hit-single. It’s a brilliant melange of styles, stitched together with a McCartney-doing-medleys sleight-of-hand. As we head for the exits Pepper lobs one final accusatory missive with the sombre, quiet “You’ll Pay.” But how? With an end to Gregory Pepper and his Problems releases? That seems an exceedingly high price.
Maybe No Thanks is a just a rumination on this particular moment and our anti-hero will rise again, perhaps in some new musical form? It is Good Friday after all. You can say ‘yes please’ to No Thanks at Camp Pepper or Fake Four Records Inc.