|UK Subs - 'XXIV' (Captain Oi! Records)|
|Written by Dom Daley|
|Tuesday, 19 February 2013 03:00|
After the triumph of 2011's superb 'Work In Progress' UK Subs return with an album of new tunes that has been hotly anticipated round these here parts, and with their A-Z almost complete we arrive at 'XXIV' and, like a kid at Christmas, it was time to drop the needle into the groove (figuratively speaking) and turn the speakers up.
'Implosion 77' hits like a nail bomb. Many bands can't seem to grasp that in this fickle world we live in you need to kick off with a bang to grab the listener and 'Implosion 77' certainly blasts off between your ears: from the thunderous drums, raw and vibrant guitar work to the drilling bass line this is the Subs, man! This is rock and fucking roll! It ebbs and flows as Charlie navigates us through its weaving soundscape as he goes from screaming the lyrics through a megaphone to normal Charlie singing and, as we head for the top through a melting rhythm and even a string ensemble, this is electrifying stuff and no question the bar is set unbelievably high!
In direct contrast 'Coalition Government Blues' is a stomping, harmonica-honking, state of the country address. Alvin Gibbs has penned a beast, albeit a catchy beast, but it's a great way to shift the style yet keep up the momentum from the album opener. 'Speed' is a Gibbs/Harper blast of pure punk rock energy; "We need speed" is the mantra and I've got cramp from tapping my foot already. 'Rabid' takes you over the top. If the opener was rapid and 'Speed' upped the ante then 'Rabid' is a snarling beast of a track. Great guitar break from Jet sends this soaring. I'm in punk rock heaven here as the Subs are on fire!
Well there had to be a lull at some point so 'Monkeys' is a little slower (not a lot but a little) and grooves on a huge Jet chug and has the sound of a typical UK Subs track if that makes any sense? Again Jet's guitar work is a real highlight.
Come track six and Alvin Gibbs steps up to the plate to sing on a track he's written, 'Black Power Salute', which gives his take on the famous moment in time when, at the Mexico Olympics, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won gold and bronze in the 200 meters, raised their fists during the anthems in what was to be forever known as the Black Power Salute even if the athletes later said it wasn't a colour issue but a human rites issue. Well Mr Gibbs has penned his take on the subject and delivers a sharp and measured song. From the powerful commentary tapes used to the chanted chorus Gibbs has once again delivered the goods as the Subs marry political subject matter and powerful punk rock with aplomb - not an easy thing to pull off.
'Las Vegas Wedding' sees the Subs lighten the load with a catchy romp complete with handclaps and chiming guitar solo before Gibbs steps up to the plate once again to 'Stare At The Sun', with its much slower grinding rhythm. With a great little breakdown even after a few plays the UK Subs are sitting on a glory hole and the dirt they're digging is paying out time and time again.
Fans are going to love the simplicity and drive on tracks like 'Workers Revolution' with its jarring riif and lyrics: we reach the chorus and its sing-a-long "Woah-Oh!" backing vocals don't disappoint. 'Wreckin' Ball' goes all hand jive on us and is complimented by some great distorted harp honkin'. This should be a single, and a smash hit single at that. Something different but at the same time totally in keeping (would love to hear it live).
Before we get to the last track of the 'Electric' side we have 'Failed State', a mid paced stomper with what sounds like an ebow humming away at the start - it lurches into a hypnotic beast and has the single note Stooges piano to add to the chaos before fading away. The 'Electric' side could only be ended one way and that's with one almighty big fucking bang! 'Momento Mori' is a pounding. Again, an unbelievably strong song on an unbelievably strong album - "Remember your Mortality" is the chant and at times of reflection it's hard to believe bands as special as the UK Subs are also mere mortals, but they are.
You might have thought that fourteen songs seems long enough for anyone releasing their twenty forth long player - well that's where you're wrong because the UK Subs don't follow the crowd they plow their own path and as a bonus you also get twelve acoustic tracks including a few covers of which 'Angel Of Eighth Avenue' is an intriguing opener. Culled from the Mott The Hoople catalogue it's a very impressive interpretation of a great track with Gibbs taking the vocals. You could also say a very brave move as well as we sail into uncharted waters for the UK Subs, but by starting it with a cover shows they fear nothing and laugh in the face of convention with a bold collection of songs to expand the Subs envelope and show what a versatile and down right talented bunch of musicians they are.
'Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind' is yet another bold step as Alvin once again takes the mic and Jamie delivers some very accomplished guitar picking. A real highlight of a tune no question about it. Charlie resumes vocals on the distorted acoustic riff of 'Metamorphosis' which tells the tale of being sweet 16 and is as simple and stripped down as rock 'n' roll gets. Charlie sings well and conveys emotion without the need to shout it and the backing vocals are spot on.
If another twist was needed dancing round the maypole 'Souls From Hell' sees Mr Harper go all folk on us. Reminding me of Brian James's recent acoustic album it's a bit of fun and nothing more, but different that's for sure.
Another cover taken on by Charlie as he croons and honks the harp to 'Four Strong Winds', also covered in the past by Neil Young, there is no prize for guessing which direction this one takes.
Friggin in the riggin' chaps: 'Higher Tide' sees a sea fairer side of Charlie come to the fore much like Charlie's Harbour Rats (for anyone who bought the single a while back). 'The Outsider' is a breezy strum sounding like an acoustic being put through a phaser pedal as Harper tells about being, well, the outsider!
As we really do near the end we have another Gibbs song, 'Thunders In The Rain', which tells the listener about the dark side of being Johnny Thunders. Great lyrics almost rapped, this is an excellent aside to what has been a great album.
'Stormy Day' sees Mr Harper climb aboard his boat again for a tale of sea shanty shenanigans and a bottle of rum no doubt. To close this humongous album we have the folky strum of 'Little Black Crow' which is simple and seems a fitting way to end what has been the most ambitious recording of this band career to date.
With twenty six songs ranging from one extreme to the other and polar opposites from rapid punk to sea shanty folk this album just about has the lot! But the trick is to not just to knock out an album with something for everyone but to knock out an album of high quality. Boy, have this band exceeded those expectations.
From the superb quality packaging that houses this here album to the grooves contained within the UK Subs have once again left me lost for superlatives to lament about this album and for a writer that's not a good place to be. I only hope I've done it justice and whetted your appetite enough to convince you that one of the albums of the year is with us and and its name is 'XXIV' and to put it simply it's an absolute killer and you'd be a bit of a mug not to rush out and get involved because this shit is essential!
An album bursting with variety, spirit, hope and, above all, great great music!