With its socialist realist artwork and bountiful fiddles and mandolins, this seventh studio album is very much a back-to-the-roots affair for Brighton’s finest. Even the title refers to an early Levellers song that eventually turned up on the Special Brew compilation of early singles and demos.
Perhaps it’s a feeling of being out of time that has prompted the band to rethink their approach and move away from the mainstream pop of Hope Street towards a more muscular, gutsy approach, evident on Pretty Target and the outstanding opening track, Four Winds.
One-time high-profile campaigners for the rights of festival-goers everywhere (one of the more dubious of the ’90s cause-celebres) the band’s focus has broadened, especially on new single, Come On, to embrace a quasi-hippie love-everybody globalism. You won’t be seeing it on Top Of The Pops, but this single is a welcome change from the crusty, hedonistic, navel-gazing of some previous albums. The low-key closer, Wake The World, also makes a rather weary appeal to look above the parapet and leave behind a “state of selfish Babylon”.
Helped, no doubt, by the reappearance of producer Alan Scott, producer of the outstanding Levelling The Land, the band sound more urgent than for many a year. But where this album really scores over some of its recent predecessors is, quite simply, in the abundance of strong tunes. At times they might still sound like The Bluebells after a consciousness-altering experience but there’s real soul and depth to the likes of Aspects of Spirit and the uncontrollably catchy Wild As Angels.
The folky element in the band’s music that has been there right from the beginning is more marked on this album, and there’s a refreshing emphasis on organic ‘real’ instruments over ‘artificial’ programming and other electronic ornamentation.
Perhaps that’s why Pretty Target, Wild As Angels and Come On – probably the three stand-out cuts on the album – have already embedded themselves in the band’s live repertoire. Like much of the remainder of Green Blade Rising they’re instantly recognisable, melodically appealing and, in their unswerving passion, pleasantly old-fashioned in this age of plastic pop.
It’s actually quite reassuring how the Levs, despite all the odds, continue to plough an increasingly unfashionable furrow. They’re already in danger of becoming the Fairport Convention of their generation, such is the band’s enduring refusal to compromise with the commercial imperatives of modern marketing. A welcome, and actually rather brave, return to form.