Slaves: Take Control

The English punk duo's bark lacks bite on this sophomore effort.


Take Control

Label: Virgin EMI
US Release Date: 2016-09-30
UK Release Date: 2016-09-30

It’s kind of inevitable that rock bands will decide to use their platform to voice their dissatisfaction with the world. In many respects, this can be something of a double-edged sword: if an album is determined to be too preachy, then the band risks alienating its fanbase. Similarly, it's difficult to become a serious political band overnight. You don’t necessarily have to be espousing Chomsky-level critiques of capitalism, but you do have to have something worthwhile to say. Only 16 months after the release of its debut and the accompanying exhaustive touring schedule, Slaves returns with its second long player, Take Control. It finds the duo (Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman) attempting the unenviable task of adding more substance to their abrasive, reckless sound by addressing the political and societal corruption and imbalance in the world today.

There were noticeable signs on their debut (2015’s Are You Satisfied) that they could commentate on serious issues. However, that album was refreshing in its ability to send up the drudgery and mundanity of day-to-day life with lyrics that dripped with scorn and irony. Here, the band takes on the bigger picture, taking aim squarely at the disenfranchised, the 1%. This is a much more serious album that is desperate for authenticity, with much less room for the humor so evident on their debut. While the music on the last album was joyously ramshackle and teetered on the edge of collapse, the band now clearly tries to connect more fully with the origins of punk. (In part, this may be a reaction to previous criticisms of their cartoonish. onstage personas.)

When the songs connect, such as on opener “Spit It Out”, the effect is unrelenting and thrilling. It’s not easy to manage sneering, reckless punk that doesn’t whiff of pastiche, but this is arguably one of the best songs they’ve produced so far. Generally, this is a much better-produced album than their debut, too, and the high points arguably eclipse anything from that record. For instance, “Consume Or Be Consumed” sounds like Queens of the Stone Age being savaged by an attack dog. It barrels along, driven by a cranking bass line peppered by Issac Holman’s machine-gun-paced vocal delivery. As for the title song, it's one of the heaviest songs they’ve written; in fact, it sounds like it could trigger the collapse of an abandoned building. Guitarist Vincent has certainly developed a lot in the last couple of years, as he's added a few more tricks up his sleeve. “Play Dead” is marked by a stalking, doomy riff, while “Lies” is a hip-shaking ode to classic rock n roll guitar playing.

There are plenty of examples of untempered rage as well, such as on “Fuck the Hi-Hat”, which hits hard with a furious, spontaneous burst of punk energy. It’s a pleasure to hear something so raw and off-the-cuff unencumbered with making a big, bold statement. “Steer Clear” features the incisive and matter-of-fact observations of Baxter Dury. It provides a welcome change of pace on which the pair allowed to show off their less-is-more aesthetic. “STDs & PHDs” adds some variety (including a menacing stomp of a keyboard riff), and Holman does his best John Lydon sneer, which is reminiscent of his work with Leftfield in the mid-nineties.

Unfortunately for the band, the almost beyond satire recent political events render the force of their polemic a bit blunt and passé. Many of the lyrics lack potency and ring a little hollow, and on occasion, they come across like someone on Facebook raging about conspiracy theories at 3:00 a.m. rather than valuable social commentators. “Consume Or Be Consumed”, for example, is reassuringly angry enough; nevertheless, it doesn’t quite ring true as the rousing anti-consumerist anthem it clearly wants to be. Likewise, “Rich Man” tries to make a salient point about the haves and the haves nots, but the barbs against a rich man with a gym membership seem a bit trite and toothless. It lacks the well-observed wit of Blur’s thematically similar “Charmless Man” and, at times, seems like a more charmless (‘scuse the pun) retread.

Additionally, the album is crying out for a bit of quality control, as there is a little too much filler on here. At best, these songs meander with no real destination, such as on “Cold Hard Floor” or on the plodding “Angelica”. At worst, they feature such banal lyrics and rehashed song structures that they grate very quickly, such as on “People That You Meet”. All things considered, it all feels as if the album has come a bit too quickly after their debut. It sounds a little too rushed like a few more months gestation might have produced a catchier melody or hook.

While it is admirable that the band is keen not to be seen as a passing novelty, by taking aim at corruption, inequality and authority something has been lost that made the band so unique and so much fun. Political punk bands such as Crass may have been confrontational and hostile, but their targets were always justified and their criticisms impressively thought through. They also managed to incorporate just the right amount of sarcasm and wit. On Take Control, Slaves show glimpses of astuteness but these are often mitigated by hackneyed lyrics. This should be the revolutionary punk album that music and the wider world desperately needs right now. Sadly, it falls tantalizingly short.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.