It seems that the last three years has seen something of a procession of reformed nineties acts all eager to join the reunion carousel. Skunk Anansie’s reunion has been quite different though. The band led by the still mightily impressive and compelling figure of Skin reconvened in 2009. Since their reunion Skunk Anansie have shown an admirable commitment to not becoming a mere nostalgia act treading the boards playing all the old hits, rather they have committed to trying to create something new. Black Traffic is the second album since they regrouped following 2010’s Wanderlust.
Of course, the music industry is a far less fruitful and tougher place than it was when the band were enjoying the first part of their career in the nineties and Black Traffic is recorded, funded and released entirely by the band on their own under their newly established Boogoyamma label. While their commitment to independence and their inner belief as self-proclaimed outsiders is commendable it does not translate to a great record. Black Traffic is an album that flounders under misplaced aggression; ham fisted metal lite anthemics and an overblown grandiosity.
There is certainly a great deal of aggression in the likes of the metal workouts of opener I Will Break You and Sad Sad Sad. There are clear influences from the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age yet Skunk Anansie lack any of that bands nuances and sleazy insouciance. At times the hooks and chorus’s verge on the extremely formulaic.
Lyrically the album fares little better. Among the themes covered are the untrustworthy and deceitful natures of politicians and the recklessness of the bankers who helped to create the economic crises. All big themes but Skunk Anansie deal with them in a largely witless fashion with lyrics that are confrontational and laced with insults, most overtly on the political diatribe of I Believed In You where Skin addresses a politician and asks, “Will you do me a favour and slit your skinny throat.”
The record does admittedly sound excellent. Urgent and rippling with intensity it has a power that is let down by the lack of simply great songs. Far too many tracks follow an increasingly tired and weary rock formula. The best of these songs is Our Summer Kills The Sun, which has an intriguing build, drop and key change akin to a rave record sung by Florence Welch.
The 12 tracks featured here are almost solely carried by the visceral aggression and arresting vocals of Skin. Always an underrated singer, her vocals stand out throughout despite frequently competing with relentless buzz saw guitars. By far the vest moments on Black Traffic are when the band tone down the rock in favour of a more considered and sweeping sound. Closing ballad Diving Down is by far the best track here. Skin is in full vocal flourish on the records one truly affecting moment. Rekindling memories of some of the best of their nineties work it features the startling opening line: “I should be walking on air but I’m drowning with my hands around your neck.” It’s a great pity the record does not feature more songs with the quality of this one.
It would have been incredibly easy for Skunk Anansie to regress into a touring nostalgia act following their reformation. Black Traffic shows that there is still a beating heart to this band and they are up for the challenge, however, the result is disappointing.