Republic / Universal
British anarchist collective Chumbawamba have been flirting with most musical styles throughout a lengthy career, and their albums are all the more uneven for it. On this one, they seem to sum up a lot of what has come before, while still adding new dimensions and layers to their already complex sound. The result could have been wildly erratic, but Chumbawamba have managed to hold it all together, turning this into a focused album — although unfortunately it’s a far cry from one of their best.
The basic musical approach this time around seems to have been a “less guitar, more programming” ethos, and Chumbawamba sounds curiously subdued and restrained, compared to their former releases — and yes, that includes the “pure” British folk experiments. The added weight on basing their songs around light electronic rhythms serves as an effective unifying factor to the sound of the otherwise varied musical genres being explored here — from medieval folk to punk rock — but the results are so sweet and undisturbed it takes much of the passion out of their performances.
Always politically motivated, Chumbawamba are at their best when the words and the band’s energetic, playful performances take center seat, but too often that is not the case here. Instead, the band seems to rely too often on creating repetitive, lulling rhythm structures to reinforce their simple melodies, when intriguing songwriting wasn’t their strongest side in the first place. Not to say that there are no fine moments on here. “Sewing Up Crap,” protesting sweatshops, is a highlight, along with the fine “Jacob’s Ladder.” But those are the exceptions, and most tracks on here are merely the sound of Chumbawamba treading water, and especially so when considering their past efforts.
A huge disappointment, then, from what’s ultimately an uncompromising and unique band. Here’s to former glories.
Republic Records: http://www.republicrecords.com