Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Released in September
England's Skunk Anansie, who Motörhead's Lemmy names as his favourite band, are emblematic of the "popular in Europe/totally obscure in North America" label applied to most groups from the 90s Britpop/Britrock scene. Formed in 1994 and eventually disbanding seven years later, the group's last two releases since reforming in 2009 never even got physical releases on this continent.The newest of those releases, Black Traffic, is their fifth studio album and none of them disappoint.
Skunk Anansie's biggest strength by far is lead vocalist Skin, whose amazing set of emotively rich pipes ranks, in my humble opinion, with the best female rock vocalists ever, accompanying such talent as Heart's Ann Wilson, Pat Benatar, and relative newcomer Emily Armstrong from Dead Sara. Aside from her vocal chops, Skin stands out enough just for being a female singer in the male-dominated rock world (which continues to be an unfortunate thing to even have to mention). Add in the facts she's black, a lesbian, regularly wears attention-getting outfits on stage, was bald for most of her career, and tackles provocative subject matter (like the religion-knocking "Selling Jesus", "Little Baby Swastikkka", and "Yes It's Fucking Political", to name just a few) and she becomes even more of a compelling figure. In case you were wondering about that name, by the way, most of the band have one-name stage handles - there's also guitarist Ace, bassist Cass, and drummer Mark Richardson (all but Richardson, who joined shortly after the band originally formed, are founding members).
Black Traffic admittedly doesn't depart much at all from the sound of past efforts from the group, although that sound is a never-boring diverse blend of metal, hard rock, punk, electronic music, alternative, and power pop. Black Traffic's track breakdown roughly amounts to about 70% heavy material and 30% of the songs being in a more commercial vein, a formula also applicable to just about all of their previous albums. Standouts on the heavier side of things are "I Will Break You", "Sad Sad Sad (with some tastefully used drum 'n' bass elements offsetting the crunchy guitars and pounding live percussion), "Spit You Out" (featuring a vocal appearance from French electro-rock act Shaka Ponk), and "I Believed In You", one of the best showcases of Skin's multi-octave vocal range. I was a little confused by the song's lyrics, however - the pointed words seem to be aimed at bankers (Oh I hope when you're sleeping/Your guns are close at hand/Who knows who's cheating?/To steal your contraband/That you gained in abundance/From cattle living poor/One day they would take it no more), but it's unclear why the anti-establishment singer would have had any faith in such people to start with. On the less aggressive side of things, there's the pleasing "Our Summer Kills The Sun" and fantastic "Drowning", which features nearly all of the aforementioned genres in just this one track. Since the band isn't deviating from their old tricks, there's also the requisite strings-heavy ballad in "I Hope You Get To Meet Your Hero", a lovely number equal to Skunk Anansie's past similarly grandiose classics like "You'll Follow Me Down" and "Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good)". The mid-tempo "This Is Not A Game" also bears mentioning, with its muted bass-driven verse sections and amped-up choruses.
More of the same from Skunk Anansie? Unquestionably. But while the band might somewhat deservedly take some knocks for adhering to their familiar creative blueprint (as a number of reviews from the vicious British press criticized them for, among other things), the excellent results produced once again on Black Traffic make it hard for me to make it too much of an issue.