Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chumbawamba - "Readymades"

Chumbawamba first hit the airwaves in the 80's - and from the beginning their skeptical anarchist side was proudly worn on their sleeve.  The "Live aid" concert was pilloried in their debut "Pictures of starving children sell records" - quickly followed up by "Never Mind the Ballots...Here's the Rest of Your Lives"

It would not be till 1997 and the band's signing with EMI that their only U.S. hit would come in the form of "Tubthumper".  The band continued after that with WYSIWYG - with the band still a hit in their native Britain (and largely forgotten in the U.S.) - leading to EMI giving them the boot, returning them to distributing music on their own - leading to the 2004 disc "Readymades".

The return to going it alone has served the band well.  Their time at EMI muted their political rabble-rousing a bit - so it is nice to see it in full flare again on this album - while WYSIWYG was a study on/parody of all the silliest things that one can find in America - and a bit fluff for being so - Readymades is all cutting screeds and satire.  It may be set to Moby-lite trip hop beats, but this doesn't dull the impact one bit.

Previous vocalist "Danbert Nobacon" (aka Nigel Hunter) is mostly absent from this disc, so Lou Watts and Alice Nutter handle vocals instead - and it is refreshing to see them step forward - as so often before they were just in the background.

Opening track "Salt Fare, North Sea" signals they clearly aren't thrilled with the state of things right out of the gate - "Sometimes I think it can be different on land / but from the mast I only see tyrants still in command" and "All in Vain" is as depressing a song as this band has released in quite a while.  It isn't all doom and gloom though - the early procession leads into "If it is to be, it is up to me" - about as motivational as the band get on this disk, but it's a nice change of mood even so.

Searing tracks like "Don't try this at home" and the cutting "Don't Pass Go" form a healthy midsection for this disc - both taking aim at hypocrites, but in different ways - and wrapping it all up in more catchy folk-pop while they do it to boot.  And they keep the theme of this disc going - not an anger that is storming out of the gates, but an anger seething just below the surface.

That below-the-surface fury forms the basis for the best track on this disc - "Jacob's ladder" - all pleasant pillowy synths, guitars, and a moderate beat - then the lyrics slap you upside the head with the muckracking fervor this band is known for.  The original is cutting enough - see call-outs in the lyrics like "You jump when you're told to / through the open door" - and a second, more explicit call-out exists in a version with alternate lyrics which is an uncamoflaged protest against the Iraq war - "Hellfire and brimstone / swapped for oil and guns" - indeed.

Whether you agree with their politics or not, they know how to craft subtle messages woven into tunes so catchy you might miss them the first listen 'round if you didn't know they were there.  They will [probably] never have another "Tubthumping" but if they keep music like this up, that won't matter much and will mean a rewarding future for their fans.

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