Six Million Ways To Live is not exactly a new album since it was released briefly on import in 2001, but has been rescued here by Distinctive for a full commercial release. It finds Barry Ashworth and the Dub Pistols crew with plenty to say, dealing with subjects as deep as God, life and the universe – not exactly a walk in the park if you’re after carefree lyrics.
The single Problem Is, featuring Terry Hall, is the most immediate and English thing here, with the obvious sound of The Specials coupled to a breezy yet slightly melancholic brass section. When the brass reappears in the form of a lone trumpet melody accompanying Soldiers, the Englishness of the instrumentation comes into direct conflict with the US West Coast rapping, giving the track considerable confusion and tension.
Soul Shaking, meanwhile, is a wide screen hip hop track, with symphonic off-beat pulses and a powerful rhythm that somehow doesn’t quite get off the ground (a feature of a good many tracks on the album). Official Chemical puts this right, a genuinely funky groove with a bit of quirkiness in the bass line, although this peters out unexpectedly into a down tempo easy listener, closing the album.
Most introspective is the title track, its arpeggiated guitar melancholy suggesting R.E.M.‘s Drive, underpinning the lyrical musings with a clumsy beat. Still Breathing ponders God’s existence, while World Gone Crazy features Horace Andy, who intones that, “A submarine sinks / Concorde falls from the sky / The tallest buildings they burn and all the mothers they cry.” Pretty dark stuff for an album opener, but also topical since the Pistols were playing live with Fatboy Slim on the Hudson River the day before September 11th.
A curious record, then, which doesn’t quite resolve the US-UK conflict within but benefits from this tension. The spectres of the Stereo MCs and The Specials, and even Dr Dré, hover over the album, but what results is a mish mash of musical ideas that threatens to cut loose but doesn’t quite manage to.
Despite that, the Dub Pistols’ sound is instantly recognisable and there aren’t many acts who can put that on their musical CVs.