Label: Split Release date: 31/08/09 Website: Buy: Amazon The Voluntary Butler Scheme is a rather misleading name. Schemes generally require the collective effort of a group of like-minded people to be successful – setting up and running one for voluntary butlers, for instance, would surely require considerable numbers of generously inclined menservants willing to offer their services for free. In fact The Voluntary Butler Scheme is made up of a single pro bono butler: a skinny indie kid from Stourbridge called Rob Jones. When I saw The Voluntary Butler Scheme perform in Brighton not so long ago, part of the joy was in admiring the sheer logistics of Jones’s take on the one man band: frantically juggling between an odd assortment of instruments, Jones put on a ramshackle but compelling show that was as enjoyable to watch as it was to listen to. It is on the back of just such performances that The Voluntary Butler Scheme made its name, so it is disappointing to hear that Jones has since enlisted (at the demands of his record label, perhaps?) the help of a drummer and keyboard player. This, it seems to me, rather spoils the fun of it all, and sadly Jones’s debut album suffers from a similar lack of charm. It’s a shame because there’s a great collection of individual songs on At Breakfast Dinner Tea. The problem is that they just don’t work as an album as they do live: stacked one on top of the other in their more sterilised recorded form, they fail to capture what was endearing about The Voluntary Butler Scheme in the first place. There are glimpses of the sense of fun that epitomises Jones’s live performances (such as the not-so-subtle reworking of the theme tune from Big in ‘Night Driver’), but the majority of the songs on the album are delivered without irony. In this context lyrics like “if you were broccoli I’d turn vegetarian for you” (‘Trading Things In’) and “you can’t go treating my heart like bagpipes any more” (‘Multiplayer’) fall rather flat. It’s also much too long. While the individual tracks only twice exceed the four minute mark, with fourteen of them one after another the album soon starts to drag. Structured around a series of recurring vocal hooks, the songs are generally repetitive in nature, an aspect they retain from their conception when Jones, as a one man band, relied on his loop pedal to accompany himself. Jones specialises in twee indie-pop songs but the bouncy instrumentation and cutesy looping melodies soon become sickening rather than endearing. There are a few moments of relief – the dreamy, Beatles-esque ‘Alarm Clock’ and the delicate ballad ‘Hot Air Balloon Heart’ provide wonderfully refreshing changes of tone – but the album as a whole tends towards the cloying. On ‘The Eiffel Tower and the BT Tower’ Jones sings: “Whether we’re in Paris or the midlands, I overdo it all the time, like a TV chef adding too much seasoning” – and that’s exactly the problem with At Breakfast Dinner Tea. If you like sugary indie-pop then The Voluntary Butler Scheme comes highly recommended, but his debut album will be too sweet for all but the most diehard of fans. Go see him live instead. Rating: 5/10