A few weeks back Andrew posted his Weekend Playlist of steampunk music. While there were several artists listed, one notable omission, as noted in the comments is Professor Elemental and his “The Indifference Engine” album (are they still called albums when there is no vinyl or plastic involved?).
Now you may be wondering who the good Professor is. Well, he’s a character devised by British hip hop artist Paul Alborough, though the Professor calls his musical genre chap hop. Not being a fan of hip hop, I can’t say for certain how closely he hews to the genre, but there is heavy dose of steampunk flavor in every song (as you can see from the cover), along with quite a bit of comedy, and, occasionally, some awesome lyrics. Intrigued? Then read on for my take on the album and a stream of the album itself so you can listen too, with some Earl Grey of course.
“The Indifference Engine” is available from Bandcamp and for roughly $9.50 U.S. dollars you’ll get 10 tracks of steampunky chap hop goodness in a variety of formats, your choice. I chose lossless FLAC so I can convert the tracks later. For a comedy album that may appear to be a one trick pony, “The Indifference Engine” is compulsively listenable and almost always entertaining.
“Splendid” – Prof. Elemental introduces himself to us as he raps rhapsodic about how splendid his life is, what with living in a castle with an orangutan butler and all. We also get a hint of how obliviously eccentric the Professor can be.
“Animal Magic” – My favorite track on the album. From the catchy hook to the twisty ending, “Animal Magic” is Professor Elemental showing off his genetic engineering skills (Owltoise, Chimpangoat, etc.) to a visiting guest. Just a fun song.
“Fighting Trousers” – What happens when two purveyors of chap hop being feuding? You get “Fighting Trousers”. You may think there is room for only one Gentleman Rhymer in Britain (the Professor thinks so), but there are actually two. Prof. Elemental and Mr. B. The Gentleman Rhymer. “Fighting Trousers” is the Professor’s diss song towards Mr. B. Think of it as an insult off as perpetrated by a proper English gentleman. For the video, see our previous post.
“Sweet Cold Collation” – My least favorite song on the album. Our intrepid Professor returns home after a successful 9 year voyage and reunites with his wife(?) who, in a fit Victorian Era Lady Ga Ga-ism, is wearing a dress of cakes. Thing take an odd turn at the end when the Professor starts removing her teeth. Bill Murray in Little Shop of Horrors anyone? I usually skip this one.
“The Quest for the Golden Frog” – Another excellent song. The Professor is giving a lecture a the Gentleman’s Club of the Empire and uses electrodes and spinal syringe to transmit images of his quest into the attendee’s brains. What is the Golden Frog? Well, it’s a frog, golden and it gives the bearer a glimpse of heaven, plus it’s also quite shiny. Just plain awesome from it’s unexpected beginning to the end.
“Elixir” – Have you ever wondered what it would be like to drink Dr. Jekyll’s potion that turns you into Mr. Hyde? Well, the Professor has you covered as he wraps (chaps?) about obtaining and drinking the potion and how it feels. This song is full of terrific lyrics, the best of which is after drinking, “your mind begins to fizz, unzip and write.” Certainly a very evocative turn of phrase. A dark song turns even darker at the end…
“A Fete Worse Than Death” – For those who don’t know, a fete, especially in England, is a huge party or celebration, usually thrown by entire towns or villages. This one, though, is put together by the Professor so you get thinks like Morris Break Dancers and a Best Pith Helmet contest. It’s a catchy song and with it’s apparent sampling of something that sounds like a 1940’s song it’s another of my favorite tracks.
“Steampower” – A heavy driving and more rap oriented track where the Professor explains steampower to his friend Jennifer. We also learn, via guest rapper Jon Clark that the Professor’s world, at least in this song, is actually the future after the seas have risen. Not bad but I do have trouble with some of the words Mr. Clark sings due to his heavier accent.
“Penny Dreadful” – Opens with a group of men discussing women’s suffrage, Jack the Ripper and the “exploits” of Professor Element. When the Professor enters the club he explains, via song, his next idea to fly the skies in a steam powered flying machine. A very catchy song with a lesson about relying on monkey butlers.
“Cup Of Brown Tea” – Professor Elemental’s ode to all things tea and one of the songs that launched his career. Parts of it are very entertaining, especially the part about herbal tea, but I don’t find it as good as some of the other songs here.
I can’t recommend this album highly enough, but if that’s not enough for you, then maybe the fact that Son #2 and Son #3 (Son #1 likes it, but not to the same extent. He’s a teenager.) really love this album, they always ask me to play it in the car, could persuade you? No, then perhaps hearing the entire album will entice you to plunk down your hard earned $9.56 (US).
I don’t listen to a lot of music, but “The Indifference Engine” was money well spent. And if you’re interested in more things Professor Elemental, there is a UK Kickstarter to help fund a “video graphic serial” called The Chronicles of Professor Elemental. And really, who doesn’t want a show with cybernetic pirates which is described as “a cross between Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Flight of The Conchords, Jay-Z and a badger in a hat”?