Review by Nathan Lagden
Skunk Anansie have been around for over 20 years now (albeit with a fairly lengthy hiatus throughout most of the 00’s), yet nowadays it seems as though their career is somewhat on the wane, with none of the big album successes or festival headline performances which marked them out as such an important act. Increasingly it seems as though the alternative rock quartet are confined to the 90’s in many people’s minds, but Anarchytecture, their sixth studio album (and third since their 2009 reformation), shows that they do still have plenty to offer, even if the album lacks a lot of what made Skunk Anansie such a big name.
The album opens with its leading single Love Someone Else, which is in a way quite an odd choice as its methodical nature is not really what would be expected from an opener of a band so heavily influenced by Punk and Heavy Metal. On the other hand though, the song is to a large extent a perfect summary of an album which certainly has its merits, but just doesn’t seem to get going in the way you feel it ought to. The opening bass-driven intro does certainly ease the listener into the record and the song progresses very nicely through many layers to a chorus where lead singer Skin gives a trademark vocal performance. But overall, it is a bit of a surprise when the song ends just as you felt it was about to really take off.
It then moves on to Victim which is very similar in its melodic progressions, but also just doesn’t have the same energy and drive that we are so used to with Skunk Anansie. The lyrical themes and melancholic vocals are certainly aspects of the band that we’ve seen before, but nevertheless it does seem very odd for a Skunk Anansie record to be two tracks in and not heard a song you can go completely mental to. Victim even teases a big build before the final chorus, but falls back into the same understated pattern as the rest of the song.
Things do then pick up considerably with the next track Beauty Is Your Curse. This is the first time you really hear guitarist Ace‘s simple yet effective riffs come to the fore and the tempo picks up to a deliver a song much more rooted in the band’s Punk inspirations than the first two songs. It still is lacking a certain anger that fans may be used to, but the energy is definitely back for this song and not at the expense of the “quiet-loud” effect which summed up so much 90’s Alt Rock.
Death To The Lovers slows things down again, though this time with a much more emotional impact as Skin‘s vocals take centre-stage in this heartfelt personal ballad. The other three instruments are really only there for support and the intended effect of playing to Skin‘s strengths, both in terms of vocals and lyrics, is definitely achieved. As impactful as the song is when listening to it however, it just doesn’t seem to quite have enough depth to be as memorable as it should be.
The carefully constructed build of In The Back Room then follows again with a similar theme of providing all the hallmarks of a song working its way to a big in your face crescendo without actually getting there. Again, there are merits to this song in the form of a catchy drum beat and interesting bass line culminating in a much more pop-based chorus than anything we’ve heard thus far. It’s no bad thing per se, but certainly the impression I had by this almost half-way point on my first listen was that I’d yet to hear a song that would really stick with me.
This does change slightly with Bullets however. Its distorted bass introduction builds to an excellent guitar-driven chorus and a fantastic vocal melody which definitely does stick with you. This is Skunk Anansie‘s writing at its best – something which which does not overcomplicate anything, but keeps it simple for maximum effect. Again, nothing of their former angrier selves here, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good song.
The next song That Sinking Feeling is another terrific example of what this band is also about. Catchy drum-beats, Punky guitar riffs and distinctive vocals building through a great tempo to a chorus that is great for jumping around to. Now that we’re at this stage of the album it does make you realise that Skunk Anansie do still have a lot to offer and can still kick up an upbeat guitar-based rocking tracks when the mood strikes them.
It is all over too soon however as we slow right back down again for Without You. This is another song however, where the raw emotion of Skin‘s performance is used to great effect. You always get the feeling that she deeply means what she sings, and this is especially true when her vocals become the focal-point of any song, such as with this one. So even though it does mean the album reverts to again another safer and more melodic track, this time it is not to its detriment.
Suckers! is up next. A 1:22 instrumental track which ironically has the best riff on the album and so, as good a listen as it is, it really is actually quite disappointing that they didn’t decide to make a proper song out of it.
You could almost be forgiven though, for thinking that it’s just the intro to We Are The Flames, as it starts in a very similar fashion before Skin‘s distinctive vocals kick back in for a toned-down verse. This is yet another song which teases an epic build but instead drops off as it reaches the chorus. It’s not as if it’s a bad chorus, or even a bad song. It’s just that once again we’re left with the feeling that it there could have been a lot more to it and that would have made it just that little bit better.
They did save the best for last however. I’ll Let You Down very much hits home with very personal lyrics and an incredible performance from Skin. In fact, the song actually feels a lot closer to her solo work than Skunk Anansie, but you won’t hear any complaints from me on that front. The song is a beautifully haunting melody which send shivers up the spine. Despite the title of the closing track and despite my criticisms, I do not feel let down by this album. It very much follows along the same lines as Black Traffic and the rest of Skunk Anansie‘s post-reunion work.
I suppose one cannot expect a band who did have quite a lot of success for being angry and angsty to remain angry and angsty without it sounding forced. And it really isn’t even as if there is a bad song on Anarchytecture, it’s just that it doesn’t live up to what you would expect from the name and provide the energy that you would want from a band who made a name for themselves as a “clit-rock” act. Nor have they replaced this old dynamism with anything else particularly, which for me is the greatest disappointment. The whole album just feels a little bit like they’re playing it safe, with the melodic tracks which used to be a pause for breath between an album of fast-paced kilers now being the norm. Ultimately, there is nothing majorly wrong with Anarchytecture, but it will not be remembered as a classic either.