[18 January 2009]
Why it took punk 15 years to make an impact on America after its 1977 UK peak with the Sex Pistols and the Clash is a mystery. Maybe it was the unmistakable Britishness of the movement? Or perhaps while England’s working classes tackled the four-day week, high unemployment and the dawning of Thatcherism and needed a new music genre to echo the social frustration, middle America just had nothing to really rebel against? Or could it have been the stranglehold of disco was just too tight?
After the grunge revolution reintroduced punk to a new generation, the doors were wide open for bands like Rancid and Green Day to embrace it, citing the likes of the aforementioned Clash and Ireland’s Stiff Little Fingers as major influences, yet despite most American punk bands of the ‘90s being indebted to UK punk, it never really translated back again to the UK.
However, in a new decade where ‘authentic’-sounding bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes have made US alternative music influenced by ‘70s punk internationally popular, perhaps it’s time for the UK’s answer? Okay, so we’ve had the Libertines’ take on the Strokes’ garage sound, albeit with a twist of Albion idealism—but what about a UK Rancid?
Enter the King Blues. With a Clash-esque sound filtered through US punk rock, they’ve taken the liberty of adding plenty of acoustic guitars to the mix, as well as 21st century London speak, almost akin to Jamie T. In a word, they sound like the Chavs. But where the likes of Hard Fi have already injected social commentary and a cockney twang into otherwise pretty anodyne indie-rock songs, Save the World, Get the Girl goes one step further and gives us a collection of songs that are bright and fully-rounded that never once try to be any more than what they are. Best of the bunch is the title track: With an acoustic ska backbeat, singer Jonny Fox tells a tale of the disillusionment many feel when it comes to our leaders. At times he explicitly tells us what we’re all thinking, pointing out that, “Going to war / To prevent war / Was the most stupid thing ever heard.”
Further on, the band asks, “What If Punk Never Happened?” And over a trippy hip-hop beat they paint a picture of pre-1976 UK life, and how it’d translate today. It demonstrates the King Blues’ ability to not take themselves too seriously, both lyrically and their musically. While “For You My Darling” (a sickly, drawn-out love story over an out-of-place accordion) and “Underneath This Lamppost Light” (a contrived ballad made up of processed beats) prove to be low points, when they stick to their carefree-acoustic punk—on “Boulder”, “The Streets Are Ours” and “Let’s Hang the Landlord”—the King Blues prove a real joy. Despite the very British subject matter of most of the songs here, Save the World, Get the Girl is an album to be enjoyed equally on both sides of the pond.