Thursday, February 02, 2012

Chumbawamba

See the space which lies between the rich and the poor
How the space increases as we keep on taking more
Keeping that space between us all
Is how the west can keep control...

Alright, next up comes one of my all-time favourite bands.  Chumbawamba may only be known (ie, remembered) for “that one ‘I get knocked down’ song,” but there is, was, and has always been much, much more to this band.  Even though Wikipedia does it a bit better than I do, I’ll do my best to ramble about their musical progression over the past thirty(30) years.

Yes, I said thirty(30).  Their one big single may have come out in 1997, but they have been making music and releasing albums and singles since 1982.  In fact, Chumbawamba was relatively well-known in the U.K. years before they became a “one-hit wonder” in the States.  Being a group of Anarchists (the real type, not the common “tossing bombs” misconception, but that’s another topic...), their music has been consistently political and social in nature throughout the years.

"Revolution (Liberation/Stagnation)"

Their first album was called Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records: Starvation, Charity and Rock & Roll - Lies & Traditions and was an ode (sarcastically) to the Live Aid form of “charity” events, and openly mocked the blatant hypocrisy of billionaires putting on live shows, claiming their songs will end world hunger, all while glazing over the actual causes of suffering in the world.

"Invasion"

Their second album, called Never Mind the Ballots: Here’s the Rest of Your Life is another concept album about hypocrisy.  This time, the topic is voting, elections, and candidates and their lies.  This is my favourite playlist addition every four(4) years.

"The Candidates Find Common Ground"

They started off in the 80’s as a punk-rock band, only a relatively unique style of punk infused with a horn section... but still typical “punk” of the 80’s.  Conversely, amidst all of the loud shouting and guitars, they still found proper space for some decent old-fashioned folk music and ballads.

"Fitzwilliam"

Near the end of the 80’s, Chumbawamba did something completely “not punk” yet still keeping with their Anarchist values.  They released an album of traditional rebel songs and madrigals, dating back as far as the 1300’s.  The album was generically titled English Rebel Songs, 1381-1914 and was entirely a capella.

"Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire"

But did they go straight back to loud thrashy punk?  No... of course not.  Instead, the band of teenagers and young adults had grown up a bit, found dance music, and released the album Slap!

"That's How Grateful We Are"

After that, the album began working on an album called Jesus H. Christ.  It had far too many samples by artists like Elvis and The Beatles, and (of course) they were denied permission to use just about everything they used... so the album was pulled, re-worked, and tooled into a different album about copyright and censorship. (A favourite topic for the band through the years.)  The new album was called Shhh and was my first Chumbwamba album way back in the time of cassette tapes.

"Behave"

Next came an album simply called Anarchy and it was their most popular album at the time (in 1994)... Topics ranged from fascism to homophobia, and the songs were just as catchy as ever.  The album is famous for having the picture of a baby being born on the front cover, and was banned from many record stores.  I remember someone on their old message board stating that the band grew tired of people saying that childbirth was “the most beautiful thing they’d ever seen” so they put it on the cover as a form of spite.

"Enough Is Enough (Kick It Over Mix)"

Next up came 1996’s Swingin’ With Raymond which was broken into two parts... One side “Love” and the other side “Hate.”  Hate was filled with their typical “loud shouty-singy guitar songs” while Love kept to more down-tempo ballads.

"This Girl"

"Salome (Let's Twist Again)"

After a falling-out with their record label, the band signed to EMI, which outraged the punk community.  It’s not “punk” to be on a big corporate label, especially if you’re an anti-corporate Anarchist band... So this got them called “sell-outs” but uhm... they didn’t let that keep them down.  Okay, I couldn’t help that, sorry.  Anyways, the band released Tubthumper and kept their typical social-political messages in each and every song.

"The Big Issue"

Well, not one to shy away from making fun of themselves (as they’d been doing it for years), their next album WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) was about the music industry, pop stars, and boy-bands.  An audio clip of a newsman saying “Stupid...” is looped over and over, fading in from the very start of the album, and essentially playing out through the very end.  The first song, “I’m With Stupid” is about their own presence in the music charts, alongside various manufactured artists like the then-emerging Britney Spears.  “Pass It Along” is about the internet, file-sharing and music piracy... something they are very much in support of (So if you want any of their music, I’m happy to share!) and “She’s Got All The Friends (That Money Can Buy)” is a catchy little song about the Paris Hiltons of the world.  In all, it’s a musical slide show of the band’s trip into the celebrity scene.  Disney, Microsoft, George W. Bush, The Bee Gees... This album has it all.

"Pass It Along"

Then comes yet another change of musical style.  In Readymades they did away with the infamous backwards cymbals of dance music, and the middle-aged musicians mellowed their sound down into what I call “electronic folk.”  This may just be my favourite album of theirs... I really like the shades of trip-hop mixed into their normal sound.

"When I'm Bad"

And to mark every major transition, Chumbawamba re-recorded and re-made their rebel songs album, adding a couple and increasing the date span of the songs.  I guess you could call English Rebel Songs, 1381-1984 a re-release... but with a much more mature sound and vocals.

"The Smashing of The Van"

As they veered away from electric music and further towards a more traditional folk sound, the band released Un …as in “UnChumbawamba.”  A transitional album with a transitional name to boot.

"Everything You Know Is Wrong"

A Singsong and A Scrap introduces their smaller band line-up (down to four members from, what was it, nine? ten?) and the simple folk music sound that occasionally poked its nose out in their early years.

"Fade Away (Late Night Mix)"

The Boy Bands Have Won actually holds the world record for the longest album title at 865 characters... The full title is as follows:

The Boy Bands Have Won, and All the Copyists and the Tribute Bands and the TV Talent Show Producers Have Won, If We Allow Our Culture to Be Shaped by Mimicry, Whether from Lack of Ideas or From Exaggerated Respect. You Should Never Try to Freeze Culture. What You Can Do Is Recycle That Culture. Take Your Older Brother's Hand-Me-Down Jacket and Re-Style It, Re-Fashion It to the Point Where It Becomes Your Own. But Don't Just Regurgitate Creative History, or Hold Art and Music and Literature as Fixed, Untouchable and Kept Under Glass. The People Who Try to 'Guard' Any Particular Form of Music Are, Like the Copyists and Manufactured Bands, Doing It the Worst Disservice, Because the Only Thing That You Can Do to Music That Will Damage It Is Not Change It, Not Make It Your Own. Because Then It Dies, Then It's Over, Then It's Done, and the Boy Bands Have Won.

"El Fusilado"

If "Boy Bands” was the folk version of “Tubthumper” then their 17th album ABCDEFG would be its “WYSIWYG”...  An album mostly about music, there are references to Wagner, Metallica, and Guantanamo Bay.  They also sampled themselves, using bits of their songs from the early 80’s, making this album a welcome sound to fans.

"Wagner At The Opera"

Currently the band is working on a new album... I don’t know what it will sound like, but I am sure I’ll enjoy it.


Something I didn’t touch on, but is a major part of Chumbawamba... Liner notes.

In every album’s liner notes, paired up with every song’s lyrics, there are explanations on the songs’ origins and back-stories.  Since every song is about some social issue, political theory, historical event, etc... every song has a story, and Chumbawamba tells those stories in the artwork sleeves for their albums.  It’s very informative and often a good read, and in the case of songs like “Tubthumping” where the American audience isn’t too keen on British slang, it’s a big help for explaining the song’s intent.

I can honestly say that I have learned a LOT not only from listening, but from reading the notes.  In fact, for a while there, I had personally typed up all the liner notes and was running a web-site for them.  Eventually, I shut down the site (because I got sick of keeping up web sites like that), and sent the band the text for their archives...

"I Wish That They'd Sack Me"

Well, I think that just about does it for my long post on Chumbawamba.  I consider them to be the most under-appreciated band of all time.  There are a lot of one-hit wonders who are more than what they seem, but I doubt any of them have as much hidden depth as this band does.