Everything you needed to know about Slaves’ debut LP Are You Satisfied? was spelled out in its confrontational title. It set out to question modern British society and the status quo, while also acting as a rabble-rousing call to arms. This intention was most fully realised in the biting cynicism of Cheer Up London, which was the Tunbridge Wells duo’s attack on the competitive daily struggle for wealth in England’s capital.
Comparisons to The Sex Pistols, though inevitable, were certainly generous. However, following in the grand tradition of punk dissatisfaction, Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent still managed to fill a void with their in-your-face lyrics and garage-rock riffs – even finding a mainstream audience through BBC Radio 1. A Mercury Prize nod and several significant festival appearances followed to add credence to the idea that Slaves were relevant.
Yes, the sentiments on Are You Satisfied? may have been rather general and they were nowhere near as radical or revolutionary as Johnny Rotten and his mob, but at least the pair attempted to address the modern malaise. And given the current mood in the UK – what with post-Brexit uncertainty – it seems only appropriate that Holman and Vincent are back with their second effort, Take Control.
Once again, the title says it all as Slaves demand that those who answered ‘no’ to the question posed by their debut do something about it. If this wasn’t made clear enough by the title, they go one step further on opener and lead single Spit It Out. “What are you gonna do, about it/ what are you gonna do, about it?” Holman sings with increasing intensity, before belting out the chorus over crashing drums and a furious guitar riff.
It may lack subtlety – a trait Slaves have never exactly been blessed with – but the message is timely. They want those apathetic twenty-somethings to take action, rather than simply accepting their fate and moaning about it. This attitude remains constant throughout Take Control, as evidenced by song titles like Consume Or Be Consumed, which includes a rap from Beastie Boys founder and producer of the record Mike D.
Beyond the record’s central theme, the duo have also made some minor tweaks to their sonic pallet. Ahead of the release, Slaves had spoken about Take Control being heavier than its predecessor and Hypnotised is a perfect example of this, with its filthy riff reminiscent of the band’s earlier material. Then there’s the mosh pit-inducing title track, which makes use of a rampaging guitar hook and Holman’s repetitive, shouty vocals.
There is no doubt that Mike D has put his stamp on the finished record, either, with the hip hop legend managing to scale up Slaves’ sound without losing its raw, unhinged power. Rich Man is a stomping throwback to Are You Satisfied? that targets the elite (“Rich man, I’m not you’re bitch man”), while the chugging, brutish chaos of Play Dead and twisted beats of STDs/PHDs take no prisoners.
This is all well and good until the relentless repetition and seemingly endless rage becomes tiresome. Whether that point comes after a few songs or after the halfway mark depends on the listener, but it is certainly welcome when the strutting confidence of Lies brings something different to the party. Yet that is nothing compared to Steer Clear, which sees Baxter Dury deliver his Damon Albarn-esque vocal over a downbeat synth melody.
Unfortunately, the changes in pace are few and far between, with Take Control largely dedicated to the monotonous, head-bangers like The People That You Meet, Fuck The Hi Hat and Same Again. While this repetition is sort of the point – especially on the latter (“Same again, week in week out”) – the end result is a record that frustrates more often than it thrills. In other words, it is essentially the same again.