UK SUBS - XXIV
So after 24 albums and 37 years in existence its difficult to imagine this CD would contain anything but the UK Subs trademark sound of heads down, no nonsense, punk rock. Well, to a certain extent you'd be right, but then again you'd also be way off the mark. For whilst this double CD has 14 tracks of top quality rock, it also contains 12 acoustic numbers. To some the very thought of the band playing non-electrified music would signal the coming of Armageddon, so does it work? Well.........
Opener "Implosion 77" is as hardcore, in your face, way to kick off an album as you can imagine. Normal service resumed, me thinks. Followed quickly by Charlie Harper's harmonica (where do you think he got the name?) introduction to a "Coalition Government Blues" a diatribe at today's ruling elite "They got a public school cabinet, MPs who have never worked, Liberals who talk like Tories and Clegg who likes his perks". It a subject they return to later in the album with a lyrically similarly themed track "Workers Revolution". This band has always been able to do politics.
The speed (no pun) and ferocity of "Speed" and "Rabid" batter your ear drums senseless and no doubt induce a thousand cases of tinnitus. "Monkeys" is unsurprisingly not a tribute to our simian cousins, but actually a rallying cry from Charlie to those who stand back and turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world. Great guitar work by Jet sets the songs tone.
The CD's surprise track for me is "Black Power Salute", written by long time band member Alvin Gibbs. Rightly or wrongly, the UK Subs are normally grouped in the non-intellectual side of punk, so it was nice to see a song written about the late 60's American civil rights movement. Most specifically the (in)famous black power salute made by two black US athletes on the podium at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. For good measure, the track finishes with segments of a speech by Malcolm X. Real rebel rock.
I think that Alvin's song writing could well have been something of a hidden talent, as they follow up with another of his efforts "Stare at the Sun". A less formulated number, but robustly powerful and strikingly unique.
"Las Vegas Wedding", "Garden of Good and Evil" are standard Subs fare (nothing wrong with that) but I rather like the diversity of tracks such as "Wreckin' Ball", whose opening reminds me of that old number "Willie and the Hand Jive".
Nice drumming by Jamie Oliver and the distorted guitar work of Jet sets up Detox" to become a firm live favourite, whilst "Failed Street" and album closer "Momento Mori" both sound like they could have pulled directly from their debut release (of 34 years ago!) "Another Kind of Blues".
Some bands perpetually feel the need to reinvent themselves, but I think it fair to say that the Subs longevity comes from the fact they know what their core fan base want and are happy to continue to give it to them, as they do again on this album. And so that should be the end of that, but hang on, what's this?..........
Who'da thunk it. Twelve additional acoustic tracks on a UK Subs record? Never! But yep, its true. Not only that, but with a fair share of the numbers not sung by Charlie. From cover versions of Mott the Hoople's "Angel of 5th Avenue" and Neil Young's "Four Strong Winds", through homage's to Woody Guthrie ("Sleeping Rough") and Johnny Thunders ("Thunders in the Rain"), the harmonica driven blues of "Souls From Hell", via the protest song of "Stop Global War", the sea shanties of "Higher Tide" and "Stormy Days" and the finale of the "Little Black Crow" the UK Subs show another side to their repertoire. Whilst it might not totally be to the taste of all their followers, its hats off to the lads for trying something different.
If rumours are to be believed Charlie will call a halt to proceedings when they produce their 26th album, having worked their way through album titles starting chronologically with letters of the alphabet. However, in the meantime they carry on unabated with the band continuing to tour far and wide and indulge in numerous side projects. This album truly is one of two halves and all the better for it. And, if the finishing line really is in sight, then they (and most specifically Charlie Harper) will leave an legacy that will be difficult to eclipse by any other UK band of whatever particular musical genre you care to mention.