With their fourth album safely in the bag, things would seem to have got a little congested in the Dub Pistols corner. With the return of Barry Ashworth’s hero Terry Hall and The Specials, not to mention Madness, their own brand of Englishness faces the prospect of being shoved into the sidelines.
Hall, of course, played a big part in the well received Speakers And Tweeters album, as the Pistols had fun in the sun. Yet for those expecting more of the same, Rum & Coke has a few surprises in store. Not least that it starts in a mood of introspection and soul searching, as if returning from a dark place. Ashworth’s vocal is understated but strangely moving, a real sense of triumph over adversity forming amongst the accusations of lies and affairs. “It’s a long climb back to daylight,” he sings , adding, “High crime is not my time, I don’t know why you can’t see it”.
This relatively introverted approach won’t please everybody. But Ashworth and co. build on their early understatement of intent, without compromising the Pistols’ suitability for a crowded dancefloor. The cool I’m In Love, featuring Lindy Layton of Dub Be Good To Me fame, is a lovely piece of breezy pop. The trademark brass remains, but is also more subdued. That is, until Ashley Slater‘s trombone powers Revitalise with a strong riff, while She Moves features the whole section, sombreros and all.
The more introspective approach doesn’t mean Ashworth’s occasional bursts of comedy can’t be included. Ganja starts with a phone conversation where a worried man says, “we made brownies, and I think we’re dead!”, before the steel pan ushers him into the recovery position.
Collaborators Rodney P and TK do a good job, though occasionally come across as a bit too chilled out in their raps, while Justin Robertson adds more of a deadpan vocal to the ska-fuelled Keep The Fire Burning. Six Months is the pick of the album, however, a blissful reggae beat twinned with a Gregory Isaacs cameo.
There’s no Terry Hall to be seen, but that’s a good thing for this record, as the Pistols have accomplished all they need to with him for now. This gives us more of a chance to admire Barry Ashworth’s clever blend of insight, comedy and, crucially, emotional depth. By and large it works pretty well, though might not sit so well with fans who’ve got used to the Pistols soundtracking a beer-soaked night out.