Chumbawamba - Readymades (Mutt)
You can never predict what a new Chumbawamba album will sound like. With a back catalogue that includes agit-prop punk (the first two albums), cheesy pop songs ('Timebomb', 'Tubthumper'), somewhat naff ballads (half of the regrettable "Swingin' with Raymond"), a cappella numbers ('Homophobia', 'The day the Nazi died') and folk songs ("English Rebel Songs"), their latest release could be anything.
However, few would have guessed the new album would be a mix of laidback dance music peppered with samples from obscure English folk singers. So, it's a major surprise when you stick on "Readymades" and hear just that. It would be wrong to say there's tensions in the band, they all seem to get on really well event though there's loads of 'em, but there are times when the musicians in the band take the driving seat, while the propagandists chill. As a result, while the politics are, as usual, ever-present, you'd be forgiven for not noticing without reading the obligatory sleeve-notes.
It gets off to a tasty start with the sing-a-long potential of 'Salt far, north sea', about the origin of the word strike on ships in the 18th Century. The jazzy, funky 'Jacob's Ladder' continues the nautical theme with a perfectly placed old English folk singing sample from Harry Cox. It has echoes of 'Hanging on the old barbed wire' with its reference to sailors drowned for political expediency, from WWII to the Kursk. 'Home with me', a simple song about measuring the world in moments, not miles, probably the purest pop song they've ever done, blissed out melody.
'If it is to be, it is up to me', a dancier number with more sample folk singing and sections of the poem "Bound for Van Diemen's Island" celebrates the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, the republic that almost was. 'Song for Len Shackeleton', dedicated to the "Clown Prince of English football" mixed more usual Chumba sounds - harmonies, Danbert's voice, mixed up with a bit of Scots balladry, from the late Belle Stewart, with a "toora loora"! 'Without reason or rhyme (the killing of Harry Stanley)' is a tender ballad commemorating the shooting dead of a man carrying a table leg by the police in 1999, Chumbawamba in a reflective mood, but uncompromisingly political as the opening sample shows.
'Don't pass go', a song about Satpal Ram's imprisonment, repeats the classic Chumba refrain "There ain't no justice, just us". 'Sewing up crap' makes use of an obvious rhyme to sing about child labour making Gap clothing. Finally, Mercury Award-nominated folk singer Kate Rusby joins them, contrasting her ethereal voice and a thumping techno beat on 'After Shelley', a song about people starving to death from Ireland in the 19th Century to around the world today, quoting Percy Bysshe.
This, the Chumbas 10th album proper, is a rightful poke in the eye to everyone who sees the band as talentless shouters. It might not please all of their fans, but it may garner them new listeners from unexpected quarters. Recommended.