[8 April 2014]
Launching the project on Pledge Music, Stiff Little Fingers barely had to lift a (stiff, little) finger in raising funds for their tenth studio album. Instead, fans were able to pledge, and become part of the process that sees the band claw back a bit of independence from the recording industry fat cats. It comes after a lengthy 11-year lull, in which they’ve managed to transcend the old-hat DIY punk ethos to incorporate a little help from the fans. A classic ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ arrangement.
The result to all this mutual scratching? No Going Back; an album that ironically does hark back to punk independence of the bygone 70s era with its unconventional set up. It comes as a salute to the band’s younger years spent heavily involved in the punk scene at the height of ‘the troubles’ in Ireland. Sadly, that’s where the punk connection waivers, with most of the album falling within the rock domain.
An anomaly to this, track “Guilty As Sin” begins with an unexpected flute solo. Before long, it settles into something not unlike an Irish drinking song, alluding to the band’s Belfast roots. Its upbeat acoustic guitar accompanies an exquisitely drunk-sounding and lazy vocal harmony. It’s almost danceable, in a quaint country-dweller way, yet harbors a more sinister undertone. Murderous lyric; ‘The blood on your hands / Marks you guilty as sin’, is near comical when pitched against the dainty flute melody.
“My Dark Places” adopts a more tender stance, though its poignancy is abated somewhat by the shamelessly infectious chorus. Guitars chug through any sentimentality into a driving rhythm, punctuated by crashing percussion. At its core however, are candid lyrics from front-man Jake Burns, who openly touches upon depression without sugar-coating or shrouding the meaning in cryptic lyrics. ‘I’m not going back to my dark places’ he proudly, defiantly hollers over the clamor.
Not one to mince his words, Burns follows suit with “Full Steam Backwards”, “I Just Care About Me” and “Since Yesterday Was Here”. The latter is enough to put anyone in their place; compacting the world’s failures into an unrelenting four minutes. “I Just Care About Me” is your typical ‘sticking it to the man’ rock cliché but it’s hard to argue with a chorus as angrily anthemic.
“Full Steam Backwards” is contentedly punk; something that besides this, appears to be lacking on an album tending to favour potent rock. Peculiarly, it’s reminiscent of The Jam at their most punk, despite ex-the Jam bass player, Bruce Foxton, leaving the band in 2006. Even Burns’ vocal at times sounds like a nod to the Jam frontman, Paul Weller, in his more punky early days.
So, admittedly, No Going Back is not quite as punk as its packaged. Musically, it’s an unquestionable feast of hearty rock robustness. It’s only in its intentions, in its message, in its lyrics, that we witness the gutsy defiance of a band that haven’t quite outgrown their rebellious youth.