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Album Review: Skunk Anansie – Black Traffic

Photo: Stuart Weston

Did you expect Skunk Anansie to take off again? I have to be honest, they are one of the most definitive 90s bands for me and to see them make a comeback, I was a little worried. Would their music really appeal in this day and age? Do they still know whats happening in the music scene? Thankfully for me and my ears, I was proved wrong as the group came back with just as much charisma and attitude as before and with a sound that was essentially Skunk Anansie but firmly modern at the same time. ‘Black Traffic’ stands as the second opus released since their reformation and it’s going to be interesting to see what path they take to follow it’s varied but brilliant predecessor ‘Wonderlustre’ and the acclaimed records that made them the success that they are today.

A lot of people remember Skunk Anansie for the energetic Skin and the brutal live shows they used to, and still do, put on. But what I think is the bands strongest weapon is their flawless history of ballads (see ‘Tracy’s Flaw’ and ‘Secretly’ for proof). ‘Black Traffic’s standout moment is the divine ‘I Hope You Get To Meet Your Hero’, a stunning string-backed arrangement that contains everything you could want – hold on for the gorgeous drop in the middle eight too, it’s the most affecting moment of the record.

Elsewhere, ‘Black Traffic’ seems to host a lot of typically Skunk Anansie tunes. The political commentary is evident but admittedly not as in-your-face as it used to be – ‘I Believed In You’ and the pounding ‘This Is Not A Game’ are the two most obvious cases. There is a little weakness in the two bookends of the record –  ‘I Will Break You’ doesn’t give much to cling onto and isn’t as memorable as the rest of the record which is quite a peril as it sits as the first track on it. The same problem arises with the closing track ‘Diving Down’ which opens with summery, almost unrecognisable guitars, but doesn’t really go anywhere.

‘Sad Sad Sad’ is a catchy lead single, but not quite as instant as the potentially divisive ‘Drowning’ – it’s repetitive, yes, but it builds up to one of the greatest climaxes on the record. The album isn’t short of soaring choruses though- ‘Satisfied?’ boasts one of the most exciting, whilst ‘Spit You Out’ is another example of the Skunk Anansie we’ve come to expect, which is not at all a bad thing. Another highlight that will keep your finger on the repeat button is the suitably short ‘Sticky Fingers In Your Honey’, a track almost as insane and fantastic as it’s title but every bit as feisty. ‘Our Summer Kills The Sun’ is also recommended; a little atmospheric breather amongst the rocky record – it stills packs quite a punch though.

Despite it all, ‘Black Traffic’ is probably the least accessible record from the band yet. The converted will find plenty to savour on the album, but it isn’t going to draw in many new listeners. It doesn’t seem to matter though – as the band themselves said, it’s about creating something that they enjoy and the masses of Skunk fans will surely eat it up too. People who want this to be a mainstream, chart-bothering record are missing the point – Skunk Anansie are enjoying their heard earned success and we find the foursome at the tip of understanding and mastering their own, distinct sound to great effect. They have nothing left to prove; it’s all about the music from here on in.

Photo: Stuart Weston
Words: Simon McMurdo

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