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Alabama 3 - La Peste (Elemental)

Who'd a thunk it, eh? After the release of their eclectic and groundbreaking debut and the tour of the States with Chumbawamba, Alabama 3 disappeared and it seemed very likely that they had disintegrated in a haze of narcotics and chaos. Instead, 'Woke up this morning' could be heard at the beginning of the US' hottest TV property, "The Sopranos" and then they turn up on the soundtrack of "Gone in 60 seconds" with, shock horror, a new track, followed hotly by a new album, "La Peste".

In fact, not only have they not disintegrated, but Larry, D Wayne and co. sound even more cohesive than they did the last time. Their acid-house-country-rock-hip-hop sound no longer surprises, this time it just impresses. "La Peste" is a well executed, well thought out evolution from "Cold Harbour Lane". There's echoes of the past, but it's smoother, sleeker and, somewhat surprisingly, more serious. First sign of that is in the title, taken from the classic novel by Albert Camus (known as "The Plague" in English).

The biting satire of tracks like 'Mao Tse Tung said' or 'Ain't going to Goa' is replaced by more considered musings on issues like inequality ('Mansion on the hill'), excess ('Sad eyed lady of the lowlife') and even love ('Wade into the water'). However, it's not a dried up, humourless outing. They can mix seriousness with funky grooves, and the humour hasn't departed completely. There's a vicious parody of religious faith ignoring social problems ('Cocaine (killed my community)') and a kick-ass techno version of the Eagles "classic" 'Hotel California', which has none of the reverence their version of 'Speed to the sound of loneliness' paid to John Prine. However, their version does show what a great slice of paranoid cocaine isolation the lyrics are.

However, it's impossible to be all smiles when one of the tracks, 'The thrills have gone' features a spoken word vocal from Paddy Hill of the Birmingham 6 talking about his fears for his family's safety when he was arrested. Alabama 3 have got something to say, and their newfound success gives them a platform from which to say them. The question is, will anybody listen? Or even more importantly, as posed by the short essay on the inlay card, will their newfound American fans even get what their on about? If not, who cares really, it'll be our little secret. Alabama 3 - Approved!

Donnacha DeLong

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