the triumphant return of skunk anansie continues with “black traffic” #soundcheck

September 19, 2012

Skunk Anansie may not be the household name in America that they are in the UK, but they probably should be. Their inimitable mix of punk, Britpop, hard rock, and post-punk all topped with lead singer Skin’s political and feminist messaging won them a horde of fans in the UK during their initial run from ’94 to 2001. After taking most of the last decade off, the quartet came back in 2010 with the acclaimed WanderLustre. Their latest Black Traffic is their 2nd since reforming, but their 5th record with the original line-up.

The album maintains their classic and unique sound, but fills it out with some modern flourishes. The guitars have that modern stadium anthem largeness to them, and the drums are often effected and manipulated. These tweaks are most evident on tracks like “Our Summer Kills the Sun” when the band drops down from full intensity. But generally it’s big songs aimed for big singalongs. Songs like album opener “I Will Break You” and “Sad Sad Sad” might as well come with a few thousand people singing along and pumping their fists. The lyrics remain politically charged as ever (I maybe assumed “I Believed In You” was about Obama until I remembered that they’re British and the song explicitly mentions the Queen, and despite our creepy obsession with Kate Middleton, we don’t actually have a queen in the States), but they’re less provocative than the days when the band used to write songs with titles like “Little Baby Swastikkka.”

Skunk Anansie’s strength has always been their legendary live set, so it’s interesting that this time around the strongest entries are the tracks that seem least designed for live performance. There are a few times when they confuse playing at maximum volume with playing passionately, as on the chaotic and muddled “Sticky Fingers in Your Honey.” If 2011 was the year of songs about economic hardship and coming revolution, it seems 2012 is the year of songs appropriating Occupy and Arab Spring slogans without engaging with their underlying meaning (see also: Jay-Z’s t-shirts…). But when the band slows it down a bit and experiments with their sound as on the stellar album closer “Diving Down,” they show how Skunk Anansie can move forward without merely revisiting past glories.

The record is out this week on their own label, and is definitely worth checking out.

– Words by Nathan Leigh