When veterans release music, I usually brace for the worse; when veterans release music after a long absence, I assume the worse. Skunk Anansie’s “Wonderlustre” (13 September 2010 in Europe and digital download in the USA, 21 September 2010 in the USA as an import), their first studio release in over ten years, came into my radar a few weeks ago, as the hype of its imminent release had some of my friends acting like fifth grade girls in Catholic school. Now, do not get me wrong, their first three albums were excellent… beyond excellent really. This is a band that set the bar higher and higher for themselves with each album, and, at the end of it all, never got the full international credit they deserved. So after last years’ greatest hits release, “Smashes and Trashes,” my curiosity started to get the best of me: what could they offer this indie-saturated, 80s electronic obsessed, post-punk feigned depression scene? My answer: If you want something done right, if you want music that is beyond urgent and relevant, leave that to a tried and true veteran band that can get the job done. “Wonderlustre” is an amazing album, not only raising the bar higher in their career, it sets it higher for any release this year.
Neither Britpop nor shoegaze, far removed from grunge or traditional metal, Skunk Anansie did not fit into any category nicely in their nascent years in the mid 90s UK. And a decade and a half later, they still do not fit into any mold – not even the mold that they build for themselves. They have not given into the indie clichés, nor are they trying to resurrect an old sound – not even their own! This is new territory for the band. So if you were expecting some drum smashing, power chords, then you are going to be disappointed – but remember, those are your expectations, not the bands. What you get is highly crafted, amazingly arranged, songs that prove that the band has matured and honed their song writing. Reality is that if they would have released the same raw power that they had in the past, the same detractors would probably say, “But this is the same, what’s new?”
The band (Skin, Ace, Cass, and Mark Richardson) has never sounded better. Their ability to be emotive, intensely urgent, and relevant to the music scene has never been more evident. And here are some tracks to play close attention to.
The lead single, “My Ugly Boy,” should have been the tip off that what you were going to get is not what you may have expected. Skin sings, “… the ways I love is rough and beautiful, ‘cause wherever he likes to go, the freakiest boys will blow… blow away, my ugly boy, my sweetest toy, my ugly boy.” Lyrically sexually ambivalent, the music is just as ambivalent and uncommitted to swinging one way or another: is it going to careen into hardcore? Is it going explode into orgiastic arrangements? And that is the beauty of this song: both lyrically and musically there is an air of endless possibilities that generates a world of visceral effects as you listen.
“Talk Too Much” has the best set of poetic lyrics: “Blessings come, but favours they go, troubled by the whispers they know…” Laced with ambient string arrangements to really draw out the visceral, this is the one song on the album that shows that simplicity and the basics can create a bigger effect on the listener than all the bells and whistles in the world. But if ever Skunk Anansie has proven their pop sensibilities, it is with “The Sweetest Thing.” This song is one infectious hook after the other, from the pulsating bass line to the vocal arrangements, from minimalist approach to the guitar arrangements to the steady (dare I say) indie beat, the song is hard to ignore. Lyrically, it is very playful, with lines like “Survive the grind or ego queens will sharpen their heels…”
My favorite track is “Feeling The Itch.” You may think from the opening line, “I wanna wake up to you,” that Skin is about to be vulnerable, but follows that up with, “I wanna satisfy myself,” and later, “I wanna burn inside your mind.” Musically, this is one of those songs that just has it all. Big guitar rift chorus, near ethereal arrangements during the verses, and the straightforward urgency that only Skunk Anansie can generate, it is the culmination of years of honing their chops as song writers.
So let me end this with one simple question: Did anyone say album of the year?
1. God Loves Only You
2. My Ugly Boy
3. Over The Love
4. Talk Too Much
5. The Sweetest Thing
6. It Doesn’t Matter
7. You’re Too Expensive For Me
8. My Love Will Fall
9. You Saved Me
10. Feeling The Itch
11. You Can’t Always Do What You Like
12. I Will Stay But You Should Leave
13. Would You? – digital bonus track
Keep up with Skunk Anansie at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Here is their video for “My Ugly Boy” from their YouTube Channel: SkunkAnansieOfficial.