In 1995 the world, or more specifically Britain, was in thrall to Britpop. Paul Weller was a God, Oasis were still relevant, and being political meant aligning yourself with Nu-Labour but not really knowing why. They were exciting times, but the musical landscape was seemingly ruled by bands who were singing from the same limp hymn sheet whilst swaggering around like arthritic chimps.
Then there was Skunk Anansie. Despite having nothing in common with the sound of the times, they nevertheless got lumped in with Britpop. As a searing live band steeped in metal and funk (not funk-metal) overtones, and with a frontwoman with a voice that could strip flesh from bone, Skunk Anansie were different. Were they political? Yes; but more than that, they actually had something to say.
Smashes And Trashes is the obligatory Greatest Hits collection which happily coincides with the reformation of the band after an eight year hiatus. There are whisperings of a new album in the pipeline too, and as something of a primer, there are three new songs included here – presumptuous on a Greatest Hits collection, surely?
Quibbles aside, Smashes And Trashes reasserts Skunk Anansie as a classic rock band. The metal overtones of Selling Jesus, the single that introduced them to the world, are still as ferocious and thrilling as they were back in 1995. Skin’s snarling through a particularly impassioned rant against the dubious nature of evangelism is still something of a short sharp shock.
This was a massive opening salvo from the band, and a statement of intent. But it was also misleading. As many of the other tracks on this collection attest, Skunk Anansie had bathed in straight-up rock earlier on (see Charity and I Can Dream for example – another pair of belters from debut album Sunburnt And Paranoid) but they also had distinct funk influences and didn’t mind indulging their pop sensibilities either.
Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good) for example is a massive ’80s styled ballad that would be at home on a Jennifer Rush album. All I Want sails as close to the Britpop influence as Skunk Anansie ever got, but mainly provides a showcase for Skin’s jawdropping voice and proves that anthems were not beyond the band.
Of course the main focal point of the band was Skin. Visually arresting, gloriously outspoken and in possession of one of the finest voices in music, she was capable of making the band’s weaker moments seem phenomenal. Twisted, for example, is a fairly run of the mill rocker with no discernable features, but once you hit the chorus and Skin really lets herself go it becomes irresistible. Admittedly she can’t quite save the turgid Lately but you can tell she’s trying. Quite why her solo project post-SA was a disappointment is something of a mystery, but clearly the band dynamic suits her far better.
Which brings us to the new material. Tear The Place Up is reassuringly furious for those who preferred the band full of rage and vim. A garage band riff, big open drums, and seething vocal that recalls the earliest moments of Skunk Anansie’s career, it sounds like a band having a blast again. The spark has clearly returned.
Because Of You is something of a tortured love song, with all the chiming guitars you’d expect gently lighting the way for the verses. It smoulders perfectly, exploding with guttural riffs, pounding bass, and an angelic operatic vocal from Skin that is up there with her performances. It richly deserves its place on their greatest hits.
Finally there’s Squander. Drenched in mournful strings and totally understated, it still possesses several wonderful melodies. Skin’s in contemplative mood, with a plaintive, possibly ecologically minded vocal, that soars in all the right places. The production is perfect, as is the songwriting, and like Because Of You, is easily one of Skunk Anansie’s finest moments.
Smashes And Trashes is a timely reminder of a band that swam against the tide who perhaps don’t get the credit that they deserve today, although with the band seemingly on good form again the new material could well change that.