UK Subs: XXIV Reissue – Album Review
UK Subs: XXIV Reissue
Released June 10.
Available now for pre-order
XXIV is the latest LP from UK Subs to get an extended reissue on two 10-inches in gatefold sleeve. Nathan Brown listens and gives his verdict.
What is there to say about the eternal British submarines? If you don’t know who they are, continue straight to the punk rock rehab camp, then come back and read this when you’ve immersed yourself in their early years. XXIV’s title is a Roman numeral reference to the fact that it was the Subs’ 24th album (and therefore had to start with the 24th letter of the alphabet to maintain their streak).
I was really taken by the cover painting in the style of Our Lady of Guadalupe (by Hollie Tudor-Smith). This iconography is complemented but simultaneously contrasted by capital letters and communist style graphics – iconography of another belief system. The theme is carried through all of the gatefold inlay and interiors down to the vinyl colors – one clear and one green to match the predominant color scheme of the interior sleeves. Kudos to Daryl Smith for his design work and the team at Captain Oi – who took the trouble to ensure all lyrics were included on the inner sleeves. It’s always welcome. Punk rock is more than music.
Overall, this 2013 recording captures Britain’s submarines as a well-tuned machine. XXIV features hard-hitting drums, sharp guitar with crisp guitar solos, woody bass that slams around the neck, and of course Charlie Harper’s vocals. Sometimes it’s subject to a garage high gain effect – but always instantly recognizable. Charlie’s voice has been around since 1976 and is part of the soundscape of any self-respecting punk rocker. I never gave it much thought before but her voice has a North Atlantic hybrid accent. He’s distinctly British but at the same time there’s a North American drawl – here’s someone who grew up on imported rock’n’roll.
Based on this combination, there is always variety in the songs, both in tempo and temperament. They go from fast to slow and serious to flippant rather than having a standard pattern, although there is a definite Subs “sound”. You will know it when you hear it.
Implosion 77 is a big sounding, punchy opener with a subdued mid-section where everything but the guitar drops. They put a lot of effort into the beginning of the album with a skyrocketing number. Complete with strings and a few production tips, it’s got the polished sound you’d expect from a modern young pop band. To be fair, Pat Collier’s production is top-notch.
Coalition Government Blues draws inspiration from Charlie’s blues harp (harmonica for the layman) leading into a playful blues-based number that accurately painted a picture of the shit show that was running the country at the time of recording. Hard to believe things could get any worse, but they do! The song has a lot of dirt and dust in it and would make a good soundtrack for a punk rock western or a road movie.
Second, Speed is a tribute, not to predictable amphetamines, but to humanity’s insatiable desire to go faster. It has an almost quirky drum pattern during the verses with fast choruses. With a sharp guitar, it has the feel of a song from their Brand New Age album.
Rabid is a fast chuggy number, ironically faster than Speed. It’s definitely near the top of the band’s dial and it’s a big punky game. Motorpunk is where this song is (about a rabid dog) and there’s a full solo that accentuates that vibe.
Monkey has a classic punk sound at its heart with a unique chorus completed by a wah-wah solo giving the slightest taste of psychedelia. “I don’t care if you’re too blind to see. I don’t give a monkey. That does not bother me. Charlie sings about how communities succumb to drug-related crime, but offers no answers or even laments, watches and moves on.
Black Power Salute is a direct homage to the famous 1968 Black Power Salute on the Olympic podium. It’s a hard-hitting number that comes with a few tempo changes, stops and starts, and cheeky guitar solos. Samples of black power speech underscore the impact. The song clearly matters to the band: the label on the B-side of each 10-inch record is a black fist.
Las Vegas Wedding uses some cheeky basslines and a simple one-string guitar melody that works really well. Chuck into a full string bending solo and some applause and it’s definitely going to be one for Rancid fans. It’s a fun slab of a melody regaling a familiar rock’n’roll fable.
Side 2 ends with a slower number, Stare At The Sun, in which Alvin Gibbs sings about his exasperation with humanity. It’s a well-executed mid-paced song with a memorable melody but, of course, it doesn’t sound like the Subs without Charlie singing.
A few of the songs on this record seem to come to the conclusion that some issues are too big to deal with and all you can do is throw up your hands. Meanwhile, others tackle problems directly with a call to arms or a celebration of revolutionary zeal. If anything, this contradiction demonstrates that British subs still write from the heart and organically rather than through an artificial process.
Garden of Good and Evil is a big muted chunk of subtitles by numbers that builds up during the verse to the catchy chorus. Nothing wrong with that – they play to their strengths. More of this theme of the frailties of humanity.
Workers Revolution is similar to the classic UK Subs canon – solid and relentless. Although it doesn’t seem dated, it could easily slip into any of their albums over the years. “What we want is a workers’ revolution. Why do we always have to fight? While it’s not groundbreaking or standing out in their repertoire, it’s one of the highlights of the LP for me.
Wreckin’ Ball could sneak onto a psychobilly compilation. The song’s title and “Council’s got a wreckin’ ball” chorus, the tremolo-effect guitar and rambling tom-toms fit perfectly, complemented by a bit more harp from Harper. It’s another standout moment on the LP and brings an element of fun to the proceedings. Imagine I want Candy about gentrification. Think of Joe Strummer when he got to indulge his love for rockabilly in The Clash. For the sole reason that it’s not your usual Subs fare, it deserves a listen here.
Rather than the rejection it appears to be at first glance, Detox’s central message (“Detox is for quitters”) is an ironic statement of fact. Harper’s view is that quitting a drug habit is a good thing. Not much to discuss there, so being a quitter isn’t always a negative. With the simple melody, the frequent wah-wah and the rocky drums, I hear a slice of proto-punk with psychedelic power brought up to date.
Failed State works with a descending melody and atmospheric keyboards to deliver a dystopian take on where a number of war-torn locales are headed. I wonder if it is also a punch for the United States with the other songs referring to street crime. The piano hammered in the manner of the Stooges/Dolls announces a discordant fade.
Momento Mori is a chunky, chunky Motorpunk ride that gives the wise man a word. There is no heaven or hell so seize the day: “There is no hereafter… We only have one chance to live… Remember your mortality”. The line “Clean up your neighborhood” is noticeable as a recurring theme on a few songs – life gets cheap and death abounds. And the string guitar solo could sit happily on a Motorhead song from the Fast Eddie era.
A proper rock’n’roll crescendo indicates that this was the end of the original pressing of the album. However, closing this reissue, the bonus track Workers Beer Company is an unreleased excerpt from Session XXIV. I thought it might have been the Workers Beer Company running bars at festivals, but it sounds more like an apocryphal story of workers making their own beer. There are a few points where Charlie’s vocal delivery apes Jilted John in the way he does an aside. It’s a simplistic and fun track with Thunders-style guitar antics as icing on the cake.
As with the previous LP Work In Progress, XXIV demonstrates that the UK Subs can still write and record top-notch punk rock, but I also feel an appreciation for the garage end of things, including the occasional overdriven effect on vocals. of Charlie – a staple of the genre. I liked giving it a whirl. It’s all too easy to forget the recent release of the UK Subs when time pressure means that inevitably all hits, all hits, all hits make up the bulk of their sets at gigs.
All the words of Nathan Brown. You can read more about Nathan in his Louder Than War archive here.