The third album from Shopping finds them taking a small, but significant step away from their DIY roots and towards a slightly more professional sound. Those already familiar with the band won’t be disappointed, the evolution is not so dramatic that Shopping might be considered a sell out.
But with a move to Fat Cat, Edwyn Collins on production duties and an expanded musical palette, The Official Body breathes life into a band that felt as if they might have been starting to struggle just a little on their previous outing.
It’s not as if their sound has swollen out of all control; simplicity and directness are still very much at the heart of what they do. Rachel Aggs’ percussive, needle-sharp guitar riffs sit on top of a taut and undeniably funky rhythm section provided by drum Andrew Milk and bassist Billy Easter and between them, the trio fulfil the band’s primary reason for existence – to make people dance.
The Official Body is crammed with tracks that act as a call to the dance floor. Sparse though these songs are, the band’s simplistic approach and way an earworm hook or vocal is a potent mix. There are obvious nods to post-punk in their sound with elements of Joy Division, Public Image Ltd and The Slits all jostling with sharpened elbows, but there are also hints of early electro, The Julie Ruin’s chanted anthems and James Brown’s taut funk and way of infusing a simple lyrical line with political heft.
The album opens up with a quick one-two punch of The Hype and Wild Child, both of which suggest that dancing shoes are in order but both pack a lyrical punch too. The Hype deals with questioning the News whilst Wild Child explores the nature of relationships and re-awakenings. Shave Your Head addresses themes of individuality and identity as Milk’s vocals play with the ambiguity of language (being “a part” and being “apart”).
Control Yourself embraces the eeriest sounds from Public Image Ltd’s back catalogue and combines them once again with body politics, identity, and the idea of the self as product. “Name yourself, create yourself” is a simple idea, but it’s a statement that is vitally important in an age of what seems to be increasing conservatism. The song concludes with the repeated line “I know what I like, and I Iike what I know” which sums up the endless streams of opinions floated on social media – opinions, of course, can never be challenged or changed.
With The Official Body, Shopping have made an album that successfully combines infectious songs and political thought without ever sacrificing the impact or integrity of either. This is a record that should be on everybody’s shopping list.