Off the back of their incendiary live shows, Slaves have made quite a reputation for themselves and are now being touted as the next Royal Blood and in some quarters, as a sign that punk is on the rise once again.
On a superficial level, it’s easy to see why Slaves have made such an impact and why Virgin EMI was so keen to pick them up. Who doesn’t want to hear a little vim and vigour? What’s been lacking recently is some of the old fighting spirit! A bit of bile! In place of shitty cover versions sung for the approval of a middle aged man responsible for Mr Blobby, what’s required is a youthful eye cast over current events and an album filled with acerbic observations coupled with agitated guitar noise!
Initially Are You Satisfied? does impress. For a two-piece, Slaves are gloriously raucous. Laurie Vincent’s guitars possess a jagged edge, and he keeps things simple throughout, which means that all of these songs are direct and pack an instant punch. The drums are also simplistic, keeping things in time but little else, leaving plenty of room for the guitars to breathe and for the band’s vocals to take centre stage. Presumably, this space is left because they have something to say.
It’s understandable that Slaves have drawn comparisons to Royal Blood, and even to Sleaford Mods. They are after all a band that likes to rock out and lyrically they have their sights set on ruffling feathers and waking the youth from their slumber. More than anyone, Slaves want to be The Clash or The Sex Pistols, responsible for shaking the nation by its lapels and mobilising the masses.
Opening with The Hunter, Slaves address global warming and conspiracy theories. Thanks to the charge of guitar and propulsive drums, it’s almost possible to miss the fact that they’re talking absolute bollocks. Nothing they say makes any sense, they might suggest “you don’t like what we do because we say what we are thinking and that shocks and frightens you but the only thing shocking is how jumbled their thinking is. Still, top marks for having a go. The ideas are there, but they’re just falling short at the moment.
Do Something attempts to rally troops, and for just a moment they’re almost on to something. “If you’re not moving – do something…you are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic” really sounds like a call to arms, an invocation to get involved, launched from the twitching and angry backing track. Then it all just meanders off, barely arsed to reach a conclusion, with a lazy “la la la” and an virtually comatose sign off. It’s a song that almost mirrors Johnny Rotten’s “Get Off Your Arse” holler, but can’t resist adding “then sit down again” on the end.
Cheer Up London is actually pretty good fun, taking the piss out of city types working themselves to death scrabbling up the career ladder for more money. It’s an easy target, but at least it’s a song that rattles along with some purpose. Similarly Wow! 7am is a laid back stoner rumble that just about works because it’s just focused on getting messy. It does also contain what might be Slaves main message, which appears to be “don’t be a wage slave”. It’s there in the broad humour of Cheer Up London, but in the lines “Your poor old father, working hard to keep working…what would you rather, have less money, or be tainted and scarred by it all” there’s some actual insight but it’s lost in the easier point scoring lines. The menace of Hey is comic book at best, but it does have a big guitar hook and a feral vocal line. It might sound like The Young Knives if The Young Knives were actually young, and lightly miffed.
Ninety Nine provides perhaps the best moment on the album, as the guitars give way to synths and delayed vocals. It’s like Carter USM covering Suicide, and it is invigorating. When the band aren’t trying to deliver big messages or be emotional Slaves are quite good fun. For example, Feed The Mantaray’s spiky bark and barbed swearing grinds brilliantly. It’s when they’re addressing relationships or trying to get a bit emotional that it’s almost unbearable. She Wants Me Now is a punk blast that appears to be looking at Jilted John and not quite registering the joke. The acoustic affected sadness of Are You Satisfied? meanwhile is bordering on the appalling.
It is perhaps significant that the closing lines of the album, coming at the end of Sugar Coated Bitter Truth, are cribbed from The Sex Pistols’ final gig. “Do you ever feel you been cheated,” intones Isaac Holman in his best sneer. The answer is yes. From the poorly thought out lyrics to the day-glo “punk” cover and the calls to revolution that ring hollower with every listen, this is an album that flatters to deceive. It tries hard, but in doing so, forgets punk’s real message – be yourself. Still, if Slaves manage to encourage more bands to start and actually say something, then perhaps there will be something to be satisfied about.