Uncut (p.134) - 3 stars out of 5 - "[T]he band play Caribbean calypso, reggae parodies, seaside pier soul revue and '50s rock'n'roll pastiche....Anarchic....[A] fascinating stage in the evolution of a true British rock icon."
No band has ever sounded remotely like Kilburn & the High Roads. They were an oddity at the time, and they sound even stranger decades later, a glorious blend of distinctly British humor, freewheeling vaudevillian pop, musical theater, '50s rock & roll, jazz, and, of course, pub rock, which is the scene where they made their name. Even if you're very familiar with the wit and style of their leader, Ian Dury, through his solo recordings, the Kilburns' lone album, Handsome, will still sound a little strange since the alternately sly and brutal attack of the Blockheads isn't here -- in its place is a puffed-up, campy theatricality, complete with Rocky Horror-esque backing female vocals, that amazingly still feels punk, partially because of its sheer, unhinged, committed weirdness. All of this is present on Handsome, even if the finished product was too polished and slick for the character of this band. They may all have been accomplished musicians, as evidenced by the range of styles here and what they did later, but they sounded better with grit in the production -- a comparison of the raw, early recordings for Raft of "Rough Kids" (where it actually sounds like it was written about and by street hooligans) on the Naughty Rhythms pub rock collection, or the version of "Billy Bentley (Promenades Himself in London)," reveals that much. Still, even with its slick, slightly dated production, this is a treasure all the same, both for the band's unique sound and for one of the strongest batches of songs Ian Dury ever wrote ("Rough Kids," "Billy Bentley," "Crippled With Nerves," "The Roadette Song" (later covered by Elvis Costello), "Pam's Moods," and "Upminster Kid" hold their own with the best songs on New Boots & Panties!!). [Castle/Dawn's 1999 reissue expanded the album by adding several B-sides and four previously unreleased songs, thereby making this as close to the complete Kilburn as likely is possible -- and thereby, a collector's item for pub and punk fanatics, as well as any serious Dury fan.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine