Sunday, August 5, 2012

The boy bands have won...and then it's done...

Or so they say on the lengthy treatise on the state of modern music that graces the cover of "The Boy Bands Have Won" - one of Chumbawamba's last discs to ever come out - they broke up recently, and it's a shame, because this shows a dramatic shift in their style - from the pop-rock of the late 90's, to the more esoteric techno-rock of the early 2000's - and here, they do straight up acoustic and folk tunes - and it sounds bloody amazing - and the soft and mild manner of the songs is so disarming it makes the cutting commentary all the more potent.

"When An Old Man Dies" opens the disc with a short lament, which folds neatly into the gently strolling "Add Me" - if there is a more scathing parody of the facebook generation and all the trappings therein, I haven't heard it yet - and with a song this cutting and incisive - probably won't for a while.

Each verse spins a tale of classic "internet creepers", each more messed up than the last - and yet one lyric sums the whole thing up so perfectly with "I don't like people but I like to pretend".  Indeed.  This follows up with the vocal-only "Words can save us" - which both poses a question and makes a statement all in one short plea of a song that leaves you wondering what it is they actually think - and this vagueness makes it an inscrutable piece, and yet more powerful all the same.  Following shortly after is a song that rides along on a simple fingersnap to keep the beat and is - well - far too up-beat sounding a number for a song that tells the tale of a hero executed by firing squad.  Really, you just have to hear it.

From that peppy atmosphere, a mournful stretch sets in - "Unpindownable" rides a gentle acoustic guitar and light orchestral touches, carrying along a slight, wispy-voiced anti-conformity tune - short and slight, but powerful still because it comes, makes its impact, then goes.  The next song is a gut-wrenchingly sad number - "I Wish That They'd Sack Me" almost plays as a forecast of the future - given this album came out on March 3, 2008 - months before the banking collapse in the fall of that same year - after which I can only imagine many feeling the way the protagonist of this song does.  Sure, they were the lucky ones who survived, but only surviving isn't really enough - and again, the words cut deep - "Waste my time working / for cowards and creeps / oh I wish that they'd sack me / and leave me to sleep" - and that is true no matter how well off (or not) you may be.

Having been around since 1986, and having a thing for tearing down supposedly pompous individuals, some targets ring a bit stale - in "All fur coat and no knickers" - the predictable "Lord bono and his pals / they were a bit too busy saving the world" is a bit of an all-too-easy stab at U2 and Bono's [purportedly] over-hyped/over-caffeinated activism.

"Words Flew Right Around The World" continues with a less-clever, yet still amusing, lark on how social media and the hyper-connected nature of the internet make it so easy for stories to become sensationalized in a matter of minutes - seconds even.  "Sing About Love" is another vocal-only ditty that hints at the fact that though they are a muckraking band at heart, they do long for the time where they have more good things to sing about - a welcome sign of hope to balance some of the darker tracks on this disc.
"Compliments of your waitress" is a sly lark of a story track - what the patrons of your average diner looks like to the employee - with a delightfully twisted end that while twisted, is just desserts indeed.

At the end of it all what you get is a "just right" length slice of muckraking folk-pop with the kind of sly wit and intellectual heft that only Chumba can deliver.  Well worth the listen.

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