Skunk Anansie were one of my defining bands of the 90’s, with debut Paranoid and Sunburnt still one of the finest records of that era. I’ve never been one for music with an overtly prominent message, yet the largely anti-racist, black empowerment and feminist lyrical content completely made sense to me despite being a young white male. I think that was largely to do with some growling guitar licks teamed with the formidable vocal delivery of front woman Skin. Her voice was truly vicious; the sarcasm, conviction and intent of the lyrics fiercely driven home, yet with a beautiful softer touch in equally softer songs. Skunk Anansie were awesome, but sadly disbanded in 2001.
Forward on to 2009, the original line up had reformed, released a best of record with a few new tracks and later released Wanderlustre in 2010. I’m ashamed to say I’m yet to hear that one, so I was delighted to hear that Black Traffic was to be unleashed in September. I’ve now caught up, so do the band still offer the vitriolic thrill of yesteryear?
Well the answer is sort of. I did enjoy the record, and although it does attempt to recapture some of the sound from the early days, it’s not quite so successful and doesn’t seem to have the same conviction. The lyrics seem to have shifted focus more to the relationship fare too. I do have to take into account that everyone’s grown up since then are no longer headstrong angry youths and that’s fair enough. The test of time has affected Skin’s voice too with mixed results.
Years of practice and performance has her sounding superb during the mellower moments on the album such as the touching “I Hope You Get To Meet Your Hero”, her voice being crisp and sweet. The problem lies in the attempts to rekindle the angry fire of the early days. Her now seasoned voice simply can’t replicate the rawness of early vocals leaving her sounding strained at some moments. The problem is musicianship is easy enough to recreate, but without the correct vocal it’s just not as effective. She distinctively sounds like Skin, but doesn’t at the same time. I quickly got used to it within a couple of songs but there’s was always that niggling sense that something’s changed.
Song wise the album is starts off with pacey rock such as the catchy “I Believed In You”, but slows as it progresses resulting in much less enthusiasm by the end. It suddenly kicks things up again with next to the last angry track “Sticky Fingers In Your Honey” but instead of going out with a bang, it ends on the pathetic fizzle that is “Diving Down”. It’s just so boring and limp that when the song finished and I realised it was the end of the record I felt really disappointed. The safety ballad is a problem I have with many rock bands though, so it’s definitely not a criticism I’m levelling directly at the band, more their choice of it being the closing track.
It may be unfair to compare first with last releases when reviewing a record, but I went into it with some idea of what I was expecting to hear and sort of got it. Black Traffic certainly has its moments, but it’s more of armchair protester than standing in the mob with a freshly painted banner.