Fewer things than ever can be relied on at the moment, what with things the way they are. Levellers, though, have always been reliable. Their unique – and stridently political – folk-tinged take on rock ‘n’ roll has been adored by fans for 30 years since the release of their eventual platinum-selling slowburner debut A Weapon Called The Word and its chart bothering, reputation nurturing successors.
Peace, with long-term collaborator Sean Lakeman on production, is the six-piece Brighton band’s 11th studio album. 2018’s Top 20 success We The Collective provided a recent refresher on the band’s prowess as they tackled some of their classic tunes in acoustic mode, and it seems that the experience provided rejuvenation.
A considerable number of tracks appeared as tasters for Peace, beginning with lead single and album opener Food Roof Family. It’s energising if rather generic, sounding like the band are perhaps trying too hard. Jaunty yet cringey, it’s the kind of song that might be accompanied by a video of the band in jokey form, larking about behind the scenes before a gig or in the studio – think Status Quo’s Francis Rossi in the Band Aid video. Another single Generation Fear suffers a similar, if less obvious, fate: it suggests Levellers have purposely front loaded the album with songs they think will most appeal. But richer pickings are to be found later in the album.
Ever since they arrived on the scene, one of their major selling points is the electricity provided by that familiar fiddle. Jon Sevink’s ability shines through Peace like a beacon in the night, none more so than on the superb Four Boys Lost, a song based on a tragic true story of a boating accident that occurred near a remote Scottish island. It’s a sea shanty for sure, something that could’ve appeared on the soundtrack to Fisherman’s Friends perhaps, but the fiddle solo at its end is stunning. And then the short, punchy, punky Our New Day is another fiddle-tastic highlight, confirming the band’s vibrant energy is completely rekindled.
So the odd dull moment can be forgiven – and they do arrive occasionally. Calling Out drifts slightly towards the ‘trying too hard’ side again, while climate change tackling Ghosts In The Water is pleasant enough but lacks outstanding features. Burning Hate Like Fire – a song about anxiety – fares better, even if it does head towards something you might associate with Then Jericho.
But towards the end of the album the guys let their hair down, and you’re reminded how great this band can be. The Men Who Would Be King attacks those in power with another shanty-like presence: it’s effortless this time, a massive difference to the moments that feel less natural and forced. Albion & Phoenix carries twin vocals from Mark Chadwick and Simon Friend as its racing chorus nods towards peers The Wonder Stuff, as does the epic closer Our Future that opens to a familiar Eastern-sounding riff before developing into an upbeat, energetic cut that begs for a live audience – if they ever return.
We were never going to get another Levelling The Land – of course not – but Peace defies the odds to deserve its place in the band’s burgeoning treasure trove of a catalogue. “The devil is walking the Earth right now,” Chadwick says, and the album reflects the “state of the world,” according to bassist Jeremy Cunningham. This latest collection underlines that Levellers are far from irrelevant even after 30 years, offering up much needed hope in an increasingly bleak world.