Levellers: Static On The Airwaves

pic by Ami Barwell

Preferring a punk strain of folk rock there has never been real interest and need here to dive into the wealth of admittedly the generally enjoyable and well crafted folk tunes of Levellers through their soon to be 25 years of existence. The snarl of a Dropkick Murphys, the socially charged directness of a Flogging Molly, and the wicked mischief of a Smokey Bastard always held an irresistible lure in front of what is accepted as an enterprising but safe band in Levellers. This is just a personal preference but does mean it is hard to compare the brand new album Static On The Airwaves to their previous acclaimed and at times less eagerly accepted releases. The talk is that this their tenth album marks their return to roots and is possibly their best album in a long time, that is for fans to judge but it has to be said it is a surprisingly engaging album with more unpredictable moments than expected.

Produced by the returning Sean Lakeman who assumed the same role on previously acclaimed album Letters From The Underground, the new release has been the source of much eager anticipation and from the twelve tracks which confidently please the senses it should follow or maybe exceed the garnered praise of its predecessor. Released June 25th, via their own imprint On The Fiddle, the band does not exactly ignite any burning fires but there is a certain infectious lure from the majority of the songs to ensure occasional visits ahead when the muscle and intensity of other releases require a respite.

Opening with the title track, a brief defiant stir leading into first full song We Are All Gunmen, the album creates an intriguing atmosphere which the second track embraces. With its pulsating reggae spiced bass and resonating guitar slices behind the expected fine vocals of Mark Chadwick breeding an emotive breath, the song lights up the ear with its electronic spotlights and spikier guitar presence. A comment on the war like air which sweeps the world it is a strong and impressive track.

Next the two singles from the album take their turn. The first from the release is Truth Is which leaps in with an excitable energy and joyously melodic heart. The track is arguably not offering anything dramatically new but it is a deeply pleasing romp and an irresistibly catchy piece of fun. With fiddles and banjos at the ready it is an instant friend to party with any time of the day or night. The following After The Hurricane is a decent enough emotive piece of work where the words hold more grip than the music. It is well balanced with the melodic craft one expects from the band but it fails to induce an enthused response, though neither does it incite a thought about the skip button.

      Our Forgotten Town is a definite highlight to the album, simply adrenaline driven fiddles flashing with sonic sirenesque persistence across the senses with the vocals of Chadwick and band harmonising. A menacing tar thick bass essence adds a haunting ambience to what is a simply a thoroughly compulsive track and the biggest triumph of the album.

The likes of the enjoyable No Barriers with a deep stimulating intro which is unfortunately not sustained throughout the song, Raft Of The Medusa the true historical tale of French Naval frigate the Méduse, and the acoustically driven Traveller, ensure there is always something agreeable to focus on. The latter of the three carries a familiar gait which defies recognition but makes for an openly engaging companion.

The album ends on a high with firstly the dust kicking commentary on virtual reality lives Second Life. With its banjo leading welcome the song is a warm blend of heated harmonica, teasing keys, and contagious melodic energy. The more you hear it the more the song takes a deeper hold and is insistent on a return. The closing track The Recruiting Sergeant is a foot tapping reworking of the Black Watch anthem. Lyrically the band transports the song to modern times with the warning from a petty criminal who with persuasion enlisted and ended up in the stark reality of Afghanistan. It is equally poignant and irrepressibly fun, a great climax to the album.

Levellers fans will definitely love Static On The Airwaves and for the rest of us there is more than enough to make the album worth a visit but probably not to join their devoted followers.

RingMaster 19/06/2012

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