‘The Mystery of the Green Street Underground’ is an enigmatic product. Is it an album or an EP? Is the artist ‘The Green Street Underground’, ‘The Investigators’, or ‘Shannon Siblock’? Was there really a Hardy Boys book by that name, as the cover photo suggests?
This recording is reminiscent of a few equally unique cult-status items that were put out in the late nineteen-seventies and early nineteen-eighties. ‘Hex’ by Poisongirls and ‘Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy’ by Billy Bragg are thought of as albums, but were actually 45rpm 12”s. ‘Girl at Her Volcano’ by Rickie Lee Jones was a 10” album.
Similarly the creator of ‘The Mystery of the Green Street Underground’ plays with the expected format. Although it is available to download or stream, it’s obvious, at least to this consumer, that it was intended first and foremost as a record in the traditional sense. Yet there are only seven songs.
The cover image attracts the eye without being provocative, or evoking any definable response, except that you want to look at it. The shapes and graphics on the back are pleasing, direct and simple. You don’t need a magnifying glass, and nothing but the relevant information is conveyed.
When the heavy, and appropriately green, disc rotates and the needle descends, the first thing to say is that the sound is warm and deep. Just three additional musicians and one additional vocalist are added to the texture, alongside Shannon’s vocal and rhythm guitar.
The songs don’t have complicated chords; they don’t have soaring melodies; it doesn’t appear as if the writer is tearing his hair out, trying to create the perfect lyric. But if you think that makes the material run-of-the-mill, the joke’s on you:
‘ What plan-, what plan-, what plan-, what planet am I livin’ on
I ain’t nothin’ special, but I don’t think it’s the same one everyone else is upon
They’re all lookin’ at me like I’m some kind of freak, or else I’ve lost my mind
They don’t understand I’m just jokin’ around ninety-nine percent of the time.’
‘Just Misunderstood’ (The Green Street Underground)
There’s quite a bit self-mockery going on in the lyrics. Statements are often about the everyday, but some emotional points are made, and the singing is as good as it needs to be. Some of the musical feels hark all the way back to the fifties, and the sparse, tidy aesthetic of that era pervades all the arrangements.
Essentially it feels as if investments of time and money have been made in the right areas. In other aspects, where spontaneity is required, or where many of us overdo it, there’s an accessible, rough-hewn quality. The Green Street Underground have made a little go a long way, and I’m not referring to talent.