The Enigma That is ‘Yours to Keep’

Eddie Milton-Seall 8 March 2019

Sticky Fingers (STI FI) have described themselves as ‘the love child of a fling between Manchester Rock and Kingston dub’, yet even the band’s own words don’t do justice to the frenetic fusion of ideas, cultures and influences which create their unique and dystopic sound. However, of late, their alternative antics seemed to have led them away from the straight and narrow: in 2016, after Westway, their most successful album to date, the band was forced into an indefinite hiatus. Lead singer Dylan Frost’s continual struggle with drugs climaxed with a media disaster in which he was accused of making racist, sexist and abusive comments to other performers and fans. It seemed to be the end of the road for the band.

Yours To Keep is Frost’s and the band’s apology gift to their fans, and easily their most varied and impressive to date. Rap, reggae, punk and rock all feature on the band’s quest to win back their listeners. The Australians seem to have struck a balance between their usual calm and lucid tones and a new-found rawness, creating an album which will not only transfix you in moments of private relaxation, but will also energise the steamy and narcotic-fuelled crowds found at STI FI’s infamous live shows. It should also be noted that Frost has since been cleared of any racial harassment and has accepted fault for verbally threatening a woman in an explanatory and apologetic social media post last year. On the band’s future, Frost said: ‘We’ve realised that we still need to learn more from our past mistakes and behaviour and we’re determined to do that through community support and a sober mind frame.’

With the help of their ever-loyal producer, Dan Humm, the Sydney based five-piece tasked themselves with making a real impact with this new album. Adopting a far more reflexive perspective, the lyrical writing of the album looks to past events and demonstrates the band’s changing attitudes and new artistic intentions. Over gentle piano and guitar melodies, the album’s opening track ‘Sleep Alone’ sees Frost vividly describes how his unsustainable habits and his isolation led to the destruction of both his career and his relationship. He laments, ‘I made a mess, I changed’, bemoaning his past misdemeanours. Yet, the coarse despair pervading through ‘Sleep Alone’ is nowhere to be seen in the following track, ‘Loose Ends’. An explicit and blunt criticism of the pressure to conform, the anthemic track holds two fingers up to society with elegance and aggression in equal measure, a testament to the band’s capabilities.

After a vivacious opening, STI FI recline into their trademark reggae-rock infusion in the form of ‘Cool and Calm’. Reminiscent of hits such as ‘Clouds and Cream’ and ‘Rum Rage’, the mellow tone is reinforced with lyrics in which Frost describes his drastic change of disposition. In a further change of direction, ‘Another Episode’ and ‘Not Done Yet’ function as the main course of the album. However – much like an over-piled Sunday roast – there is almost too much on the plate.

‘Another Episode’ sees Frost re-examine his previous actions: both how he made others feel, and the resulting loneliness this caused him. In a strange and atypical rap, he addresses his addiction, reasoning it as the cause of some of his near inexcusable actions. Critics have been notably harsh on this segment, stating that it is poorly executed and a self-entitled divergence from his skill set and the message. However, whilst I would agree that Frost’s rapping abilities are slightly rough around the edges, the directness of the rap further emphasises Frost’s new message. These ideas are further entertained in ‘Not Done Yet’, a meditation on Frost’s rehabilitation. The strongest track on the album, the power of this song is only reinforced by its striking music video. Depicting the band as damaged and regretful of past mistakes, evident still is the incentive to make music. The music has an infectious quality that wills you to play it on repeat.

The rest of album continues along the same lines of remorse and acceptance. Perpetual ups and downs come to define STI FI’s new attitude; Yours To Keep shows the band accepting all the faults they’ve made along the way. And, although musically it is a new, interesting and exciting sound, the real cutting edge of this album is the public emotional vulnerability on display. They’ve transformed from talented teenage thugs to serious and insightful musicians. As the album concludes with Frost declaring, ‘Heaven knows no place for junk like me’, his new-found self-deprecation is evident. This is an album to listen to when you’ve gone all wrong, and simply need to bask in your own flaws. Yours To Keep is an enigma, but also a gift.