It’s been a long time coming, but after 25 years away from music, former The Slits guitarist Viv Albertine returns with her debut solo album, entitled The Vermilion Border. Yet what makes Albertine’s return even more remarkable, is the fact that she avoided playing guitar altogether after her influential all-female punk band disbanded in 1982. Instead, the Australian-born guitarist spent her time studying film making in London, before working as a director throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s.
But after freelance directing stints with the BBC and British Film Institute, Albertine picked up the guitar again on the back of The Slits’ 2005 reunion and started feverishly writing new solo material. This period of creativity led her to begin recording and showcasing her new songs around London in 2009. Albertine’s return to music was cemented by the release of a taster four-track EP, called Flesh, in 2010. And it was this EP which, in many ways, laid the groundwork for what was to come on her debut full-length album.
While the EP retained the unflinching attitude and obtuseness towards commercialism that set The Slits apart in the ’70s, Albertine’s first solo material demonstrated a much more personal perspective. It is something that is clearly present again on her debut LP, no more so than on the unnerving Confessions Of A Milf. It sees Albertine team up with former partner Mick Jones of The Clash and catalogues the trials and tribulations of a disillusioned housewife. “A man needs a maid, a maid of his own/ in his home, home sweet home,” sings Albertine, with a sense of distaste.
The same sardonic attitude is also infused in the album’s uncomfortable and jagged opener, I Want More. Albertine’s commanding – albeit strange – vocal combines with razor sharp guitars seamlessly on a song that undoubtedly provides a strong statement of intent to kick off the record. Hookup Girl is another lyrically cutting track – continuing the theme of bitterness that was present on Confessions Of A Milf. However, Hookup Girl’s strengths lie in the disarmingly pretty melody that provides the basis for Albertine’s comically modern tale of romance, as she sings: “In another town you would be a whore/ but in North London you are just a bore/ if you won’t, hook up like you did before.”
The frenetic opening pace of The Vermilion Border does begin to wane as the album progresses, though, with Albertine moving away from the angular riffs that dominated the first few songs on the LP. Becalmed (I Should Have Known) is an atmospheric, slow-burner, which rests on a continuous thumping beat, while the dreamy – but all too forgettable – The Madness Of Clouds drifts along harmlessly. Elsewhere, the creeping and eerie guitar riffs of The False Heart and When It Was Nice show exactly why Albertine and The Slits were such a big influence on acts such as Sonic Youth and more recently, Warpaint.
After spending over two decades away from music, The Vermilion Border is a strong return from Viv Albertine. While her debut solo album is not instant, it only takes a few listens to realise that Albertine still possesses the raw talent as a songwriter and guitarist to continue to make a mark on the music industry. It’s by no means perfect, but The Vermilion Border is frantic and captures some of the emotions that Albertine went through during the breakdown of her 17-year marriage. On this evidence, there is still much more to come – let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 25 years to hear it.