Call it what you will, the fin-de-siècle hangover or the nostalgic naughties, but popular music is slowly working its way backwards through time. After the camp-rock revival, we now have a flurry of punkists. Amongst others Kaiser Chiefs and The Dead 60s are slowly dragging us back to the feel of the late ’70s and early ’80s. But whereas the Chiefs have so far given us their goofy take on the big con, The D60s’ first album offers us some full on two-tone.
Though neither band actually offers something new, for me they are a breath of fresh air because they offer a break from the likes of Coldplay’s latest release. But whether or not The Dead 60s have the Chiefs’ commercial flair remains to be seen. But then this is punk, so who gives a damn! Probably lots of people. But this is all about nodding your head with aggression and purpose. And don’t forget to frown.
The Dead 60s are four 21st century skaster-mods from Liverpool and their self-titled debut album clocks in at 35 minutes and 56 seconds of urban hostility. The longest track on this 13-song set-list is an inciting 3’40; the shortest a breathless 1’30. Put it like this: not enough time for me to get bored but just long enough for me to do in my neck.
“Riot Radio”, the first track on the album and the first single release, sets the scene. The title (how many variations can you think of, excluding Kaiser Chief’s “I Predict a Riot”), the themes (conservatism broadcast over the airwaves), the values (direct action) and the sound (reverb-laden vocals) offer nothing new per se (cf. The Clash, The Pistols and The Specials). Some may even argue that the guitar riff is a little too close to Franz Ferdinand’s “This Fire”. But The Dead 60s are being too obvious to be dishonest. This opener works precisely because of its musical recycling driven with delinquent energy: “Airwaves beam from the light on the tower / Get my kicks from your 11th hour / Won’t you give me some more / Riot on my radio.” Marvellous. If I was looking for poetry I’d sit down with a Heaney collection.
As is the want of any post-Clash punk band, there are a number of tracks constructed around simple reggae guitar chords. These include “Control This” and “Nowhere”. The former requires us to be patient and forgiving. The reggae intro breaks down giving way to the sound of a lighter followed by a deep breath. Yes, the singer Matt McManamon is pretending to smoke a spliff. Or maybe he really is. And yes, I do get the irony, but who gives a flying weed. However, when the boys forget the arsing about and get on with the music the results can be excellent.
As “Nowhere” fades into the sound of rain, so the cool and effective f/punk bass-line of “Red Light” kicks in. Again, there’s no lyrical revolution here, but then revolution isn’t the only way to make a point: “staring in silence, making no conversation / leaving the office, they love their temptation / out of the shadows and into the night, out of the blue they will swamp to the red light.” This is one of the best songs on the album with a wonderful metropolitan soundtrack feel. Even the use of sirens — come on! this is an emergency — and drum machine effects don’t put us off.
The next track also uses a siren, but this time to not so good effect (if, indeed, a siren can be used to good effect in this day and age). The intro to “Just Another Love Song” is extremely promising but for me the song loses its way. It sounds familiar, as many of the songs here do, but that’s not its problem. The song suffers melodically because beyond the simple recurring mod guitar riff it is trying to be structurally too complicated (relatively speaking, of course). On such a short album it’s a shame that there has to be just another filler song.
One might think the use of sirens on a Dead 60s’ tune is the sign of a lack of inspiration. “Just Another Love Song”, “Horizontal” and “The Last Resort” are definitely the weakest tracks on the album and they both contain the electronic wailing of police cars and ambulances attending yet another ASBO reunion. “The Last Resort” is either trying too hard or it’s not quite doing enough. And the boys have to cut back on the echo effect. But they’ll soon learn that less is more once they’ve lost the novelty of playing with all the toys in the recording studio.
“You’re Not the Law”, which will feature on The OC this month (is that a claim to fame these days?!?), is also guilty of sounding alarm bells (perhaps the Dead 60s themselves should sit up and take note). And we have to add to this the fact that it is a total Madness rip off. Before the opening bars have had time to find their tempo we find ourselves singing: “It’s just gone noon / Half past monsoon / On the banks of the river Nile.” One redeeming factor is that it sounds like “Night Boat to Cairo” revisited by The Specials. Make of that what you will.
But there are enough highlights on this record for us to rapidly forget about the follies of youthful non-inventiveness (and as I’ve already stated, in certain circumstances even that can be forgiven). “Loaded Gun”, the follow up single to “Riot Radio”, would be a good place to kick off the flip side of a vinyl copy of the album appearing as it does halfway through. “Nationwide” is characterised by an atmospheric ska start and with what sounds like a plastic toy version of a melodica wind piano. Class.
The rabble-rousing slow pounding beat of “We Get Low” is once again extremely effective, and this brings us to what really is the underlying quality of The Dead 60s: Charlie Turner’s stripped down bouncing bass lines. Time and again, through the immaturity, the messiness, the unmastered energy, it’s Turner’s bass that comes through the strongest trying its damndest to hold everything together.
And then there are moments when everything clicks in around the bass and you get a glimpse of quality. This is the case with “New Town Disaster”, probably the best song on the record with its brisk bass-line, cyclical riff and post-ironic vocals (can I get away with that?): “New Town, no future, no now” — are they talking about Milton Keynes?
As the message is the image, the artwork is itself a two-tone affair that wavers between iconic ska imagery (council estate tower blocks) and slight immaturity (a mix of what appear to be real and fake small ads). The CD contains a handy little file that opens up a player on your PC enabling you to rip the tracks. This will allow you to reproduce a limited number of CDs or convert the tracks into Windows Media files or something that a Sony portable device can recognise (Sony owns Deltasonic). Whether or not you see this as control freakery, one thing’s for sure: there’s nothing very anarchic about that lads.
The album doesn’t contain the Dead 60s “Ghost Town”. But it is a blast and well worth half an hour of your time. It’s just a shame that it is being released so late in the UK as the record has the summer feel of a Psychedelic Furs album. Perhaps that’s just me. Perhaps I’ve damaged more than just my neck listening to this album.
Of course, you know what this means. If my original premise is true, in a couple of years’ time, maybe even sooner, the progrockers will be stealing all the headlines. You mark my words.