No one’s now listening to punk for originality, or social revolution. No one’s now listening to punk for originality. No one’s now listening to punk. No one’s now listening. If they ever did.
I’ll begin this as I’m gunning to go on, litigiously: the first thing that occurred to me after playing this, Leatherface’s eighth full-length, was, “Oh, they’ve found the contour knob on the mixing desk, then.” (The production on all but the most recent of their stuff did an exemplary job of obscuring the best, most conspicuous thing about them, which is Frankie Stubbs’ scattered, queer poetry.)
I did have a wanky segment prepared here on how the album title was an impressive rendering of Gorky’s pre-communist prop, The Stormy Petrel – a metaphor for disguised political unrest, and how I totally hadn’t expected such clear statements of Matter from them. Turns out instead to be about a decorated Sunderland gallant who rescued a heap of people from shipwrecks and the local waters.
I should maybe have seen that coming. See, Leatherface were never anarcho-nihilist sorts, and this is even their nicest record. That said, it does open with a big ol’ Problem of Evil anthem, “God Is Dead”, and the clearest Big Political Declaration they’ve ever done:
“Chicago School talking like fools,
Viva Chavez, Viva Allende!
Freemarket – still not dead
Wartime leaders get Nobel Peace prizes”
(It’s not as incendiary as that makes it sound, honest.)
Most of all, this album is about taking the things they’ve developed since the formless early albums – a basically positive, melodic sound, but with that worldview flowing bitter and strange and dirty over the top. Six years well spent? Well, maybe: Palm-muted bridges? CHECK. Lyrical strangeness? CHECK. Two-guitar loud-quiet bits? CHECK. Is Stubbs’ laryngitis ready? CHECK.
That voice is still a fucking treasure – Tom Waits meets Lemmy in a dinghy on the Tyne – but I amuse myself thinking about the kind of pop that it smuggles past even hardened punx. You can, without trying too hard, dig up a blatant thread of The Police in their sound.
As long as the fans – Sunderland exported worldwide! – remain as rightly rabid as they do, Stubbs is unlikely to repeat the disillusionment-and-split business – “Broken” “Hope” and “Belly Dancing Stoat” will fuel song-request heckles in the very near future.
“Is it an illusion you’re alluding to?
A belly-dancing stoat
Is more believable than you.”
© Gavin Leech, Music Vice