Less Lipstick, Powder & Paint than Politics, Gunpowder & Pain, not only is his voice beautifully raw and burnished, but the songs are elegantly persuasive
It would be hard to explain to a Gen-Z pop fan just how big Shakin’ Stevens was for the first half of the ‘80s, winning the hearts of the nation with his twin weapons of smooth rock ‘n’ roll vocalising and signature dance moves, which looked like someone had just cut half the strings on an Elvis marionette. But best not to waste too much time trying to get our putative zoomer up to speed, as Re-Set, Shaky’s third album this millennium, is as different from most of his career as the name suggests. And the fact that the cover shows him standing, windswept and scarf-wrapped in a disused slate quarry like he’s a lost post-Paul McGann Doctor Who regeneration does nothing to dispel this new-beginning notion.
Firstly, the lyrical concerns are rather more weighty than the classic Stevens songbook themes of boy meets girl/ boy tries to gatecrash next door’s party/ boy conducts disappointing structural survey. There’s a clear ecological message running through the album, and Greed Is All You Need is an unequivocal swipe at any dastard who puts profit above people or planet. Sometimes the message doesn’t get much beyond “like, the government, man”, and we probably didn’t need both references to 1984 within the first verse of Hard Learned Lesson to make the point. But throughout, the sentiments are clearly heartfelt and sincere. The best of the political songs is Beyond The Illusion, a paean to the men like Shaky’s ancestors who worked the Cornish copper mines, which sounds like something Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger would have included in a Radio Ballad, delivered with the brawny warmth of Show Of Hands.
Re-Set is also far more musically mature than the pop rocking that constituted most of Shaky’s career. Not only is his voice beautifully raw and burnished, but the songs, whilst not structurally complex, are elegantly persuasive, from the self-assured Tom Petty chug of Not In Real Life to the Bob Dylan-esque shimmy of Hard Learned Lesson. Dirty Water even cuts a ZZ Top strut across dusty hardtop towards a roadhouse boogie session, where some atmospheric backing singers can be heard through the window. Only It All Comes Round feels featherlight, a timid Levellers song that needs another few pints of scrumpy to build its courage. The last Shaky album to crack the UK Top 40 was the slightly anaemic Lipstick, Powder & Paint in 1985; Re-Set is more Politics, Gunpowder & Pain, and if it doesn’t score him his best sales for many a long year, then the world is in an even worse state than we thought.