Album review: Skunk Anansie – Black Traffic

Steve Buttercase - TCS Guest Reviewer 10 April 2013

Skunk Anansie – Black Traffic

Noel Gallagher recently cited David Bowie’s spectacularly successful re-launch as an example of why old acts do not need to re-form and play out their days living off past glories, but can continue to create and express themselves in an acceptable way.

Ok, so not everyone is David Bowie, or Noel Gallagher for that matter, but the point is valid.

One nineties act that could quite easily sell out medium sized venues for years playing their Brit Pop era hits is Skunk Anansie. I have a bit of a soft spot for them as I can still remember the first time I listened to Ace’s blistering guitar work on “Paranoid and Sunburnt” after coming to them a bit later than most. Vocalist Skin had an authentic anger and delivery that just grabbed the attention – they were a unit that just sounded like they meant it.

New album “Black Traffic” follows mixed reviews for its predecessor “Wonderlustre” released after an 11 year hiatus to a somewhat tepid critique from an expectant multitude of journalists and fans.

That album reflected the band honestly – it was more subdued, more considered. Of course it was – they are older – but that’s not how music works in 2013 so the challenge was re-defined. The band had to make a new Skunk Anansie album that looked backwards and forwards at the same time. This is also their first album on their own label which must be exciting and I am sure they have given everything to get it right.

They have partly succeeded. The album is recorded to sound as live as possible but is still meticulously produced and therefore captures the band’s energy without the recording itself sounding too dated or laboured, often a risk when live albums are released and then compared to perfectly captured studio renditions.

Skin is older now and it is all there in her voice. She still snarls and screams as her veins bulge with the poisons of political and social injustice; and she still has an ear for a poignant lyric or refrain – it’s just all a bit more measured and reflective, which I like- because its completely honest.

Opener “I Will Break You” blasts into the room like the party guest your parents never wanted you to invite, ring-pulls the album and sprays the bands intent all over the new curtains. First tracks need to grab you (if the album format has any relevance at all nowadays) and this one does it with aplomb. Ace is sublime and all the of band sound equally polished.

The tracks drift by with various degrees of impact but there is no weak filler here, just degrees of accomplishment. You sense Skin is sharing her real life personal experiences in a strong but sensitive way, always capturing the ambience and essence of each emotional nadir – that rawness and hurt that, when you are there, seems interminable.

“Sad Sad Sad”; “I Can’t Spit You Out”; “I Believed In You”; there is a catalogue of trusting to hope and being disappointed but without pessimism or nihilism – there is an underlying optimism in her rage…”I hope you get to meet your hero…I hope she never tears your heart out” – so forgiving and sensitive from one who has clearly just experienced exactly that.

A fine album if perhaps not a great one. Still political. Still angry. Still Skunk Anansie.

Download: I Believed In You, Spit You Out, Diving Down.

Steve Buttercase – TCS Guest Reviewer