Snuff: 5-4-3-2-1 ... Perhaps?

[2 April 2013]

By Chris Conaton

Back in the mid-‘90s, when Fat Wreck Chords was still a young label just getting started, they breathlessly promoted their signing of the English band Snuff. Snuff was a band that had gained a near-legendary reputation in certain circles, likely enhanced by the fact that they only released one album and a pair of EP’s before breaking up. But they got back together in the mid-‘90s, shuffling their personnel and adding trombone and organ to their lineup. This iteration of the band released a string of albums over the next few years, including the minor classics Demmamussabebonk and Tweet Tweet My Lovely, before disappearing again after ‘03’s Disposable Income.

But now, after a 10-year break, Snuff has returned with a new album. 5-4-3-2-1 … Perhaps begins with “In the Stocks”, a song that bears all the hallmarks of classic Snuff. There’s the Hammond B3 in the background right from the start, and the trombone shows up to counterpoint the melody post-chorus. The song has a catchy melody and comes complete with Duncan Redmonds’ endearingly slurred vocals. It’s often difficult to make out what Redmonds is talking about the first or second time listening to a Snuff song, but his singing is so bright and cheerful that it’s hard not to smile.

The rest of the album plays out exactly like Snuff records of old. That’s a blessing and a curse because that means it also includes all the same mistakes the band has always made. It’s full of energy, courtesy of Redmonds’ vocals (and his drumming, he does double duty) and Loz Wong’s guitars. But the band harbors a love of old hardcore that inevitably leads to a handful of tracks that unspool at breakneck speed. These hardcore songs are usually the worst parts of any Snuff album, since they subdue all of the band’s best qualities in favor of pure speed. On 5-4-3-2-1 … Perhaps, those songs are “Mumbo Jumbo” and “I Blame the Parents”. Each features Redmonds’ shouting instead of singing and puts the focus on middling speed-riffing. It’s no coincidence that the hardcore tracks have no parts for the organ or trombone.

Not that Snuff ever really takes full advantage of its oddball instrumentation. Out of 10 songs on the album, only six include the organ and four include the trombone. Those are pretty low percentages for a pair of guys who are ostensibly full-time members of the band. But even when Snuff is ignoring its most interesting instruments, it at least has Redmonds’ vocals and Wong’s catchy guitar leads to lean on. Songs like “From Underneath the Ice” and “There Goes the Waltzinblack” get by on their overall melodic punk feel. On the other hand, a darker track like “Bones for Company” marries Redmonds’ melodic delivery with hardcore textures, while “Mary Poppins” resembles a driving hard rock song and nicely subverts Redmonds’ cheeriness.

Still, the band is at its best when all of its members are participating. “Rat Run” has a cool organ riff running through its chunky punk singalong, while “All Good Things” is a driving closer that puts the trombone front and center. Most successful might be the album’s true oddball song, the bouncy “EFL.” It’s a mid-tempo shuffle that finds organist Lee Murphy also using piano for a sound that approaches Beatlesque, complete with “ba ba ba ba” backing vocals and trombone solos.

5-4-3-2-1 … Perhaps is the kind of album that will most likely leave some longtime fans pleased while leaving others mildly disappointed. It’s a solid effort with a handful of standout songs, but this isn’t likely to be anybody’s favorite Snuff record. After such a long time away, though, it’s at least nice to hear that the band can still rock hard when they get back together.

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