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Sunday, 23 September 2012


Skunk Anansie fans were over the moon to see it confirmed that the band had re-grouped a few years back, and I was certainly one of them.  Having never got into them much earlier I felt like a late arrival, understanding the hype only once the horse had bolted, so the news was....well, music to my ears, I suppose.  Speaking for myself, the album that marked their return, Wonderlustre, didn't really mark the return of the band as far as I was concerned; it is not that the album is at all bad, I'd happily say it is perfectly average, with some good, some weak, but ultimaely nothing that inspiring.  The truth of the matter is, I believe, that whilst the band might never admit it, they were still shaking off the rust when they wrote and recorded that material, and I have to say it shows.  Now we have Black Traffic, and here is how it works.

Opening with I Will Break You, we get the high energy Skunk coming out all guns blazing; it is heavy, has a thunderous bass, and will undoubtedly get the crowd moving when played live.  Similarly, later on the album we get Sticky Fingers In Your Honey, this record's Selling Jesus, with its injection of high octane energy and sense of fun, driven by a rare but much enjoyed double kick.  Together they make up this album's nod to the Skunk Anansie of Then.  To some degree this is a sadness; the rest of the album reflects a Skunk Anansie of Now, and whilst that is to be expected, it stands as a criticism of the album that there isn't quite enough of that fire-in-the-belly style that comes to mind when I mention Stoosh or Charlie Big Potato. 

This is not to say there are not plenty of wonderul hard rocking moments, but as with the very addictive I Believed In You, a riff-tastic burst of anger from a band who know exactly what they are cross about, there is a standard vibe to a lot of it, a safeness to them.  Spit You Out is the first song to really boast the soaring chorus we know Skunk for, and the trick is repeated quite a lot throughout the record, most notably with the song that should have been the closer, This Is Not A Game.  Following a couple of lacklustre tracks, this song sets you up for another taste of disappointment, only to then surprises you with a glorious, anthemic chorus that could have been written by Queen, and reminds us that Skin remains one of the greatest female vocalists we have produced in the last couple of decades.

The hard elements aside, we have an album highlight in I Hope You Get To Meet Your Hero, which is very much this album's Brazen.  Accompanied by a gorgeous string arrangement, Skin delivers heartbreaking lyrics with passion and Ace sounds terrific on bass.  Satisfied gives us another killer chorus and great lead guitar, and is a song that underlines Skin's ability to remain concise about the issues she is addressing, without becoming preachy.  Indeed, this album is generally a less personal record, and apparently more of a subtle knife to the political world, though a lot of it can still be understood as personal as well, which is a constant through the album and is to be admired.

Black Traffic has its weaknesses, even if you're not comparing it to old material; Sad Sad Sad and Drowning come across fairly standard, and Our Summer Kills The Sun is not the only moment that feels like a leftover from previous records and lacking inspiration.  In terms of production, some of this albums feels a little over-processed, lacking the in the room vibe that makes older material feel so vital, and whilst Skin's delivery is technically superb, there are points at which we miss the rawness of a more angry performance.  There are also points at which, through no fault of her own obviously, there appears to be a thin-ness to her voice that doesn't sit as well as it should with the rest of the band.  Granted, these moments are rare, but nevertheless, there they are.

Black Traffic is a solid rock album that tramples all over its predecessor in many ways, not least due to the confidence of a band who had been away for too long, and have now found their footing again.  Further away from perfect than it should be, and certainly not a touch on previous efforts, but a marked return to some sort of form, even if it is a new, more mature, but often less urgent and inspired form.  I remember saying something similar about Pearl Jam when they came out with their self-titled album, which I like very much.  I'm basically saying that all flaws aside, and whilst it is no album of the year or anything, this is still well worth your time!

 RATING: 3.5/5

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