Remember when Skunk Anansie headlined Glastonbury? It’s been nearly 20 years, but it’s easy to forget that the agit-punk-funk-metal four piece (did they call themselves 'clit-rock'?) were once genuinely massive. Their three Nineties records, Paranoid and Sunburnt, Stoosh and Post Orgasmic Chill are worth digging out again- they show a wickedly energetic, riff-heavy and fucking livid RATM-esque metal band evolving through a series of genuinely classic-sounding singles (‘Weak’, ‘Twisted (Everyday Hurts’), ‘Hedonism’) while embracing drum n bass (‘Charlie Big Potato’) and proper ballads (‘Brazen (Weep)’. Since reforming in 2009 that progression has swerved away from the bleeding edge, as you’d expect from a band now two decades deep, instead consolidating into something solidly constructed and very self-assured. They might be lacking some of the fuck-you of ‘Selling Jesus’ or ‘Yes It’s Fucking Political’, but these songs are never anything but nifty, dynamic and satisfyingly crafted.
Anarchytecture, their sixth album, is the work of a band playing to their strengths and operating from their sweet spot. They know they can do grooves, they know they can do riffs, and they know in singer Skin they have a voice that can do pretty much anything; those elements become the foundation of an album that skips from genre-to-genre, in a fairly risk-free, but comfortably accomplished way. Thus we have the ‘Daddy Cool’ bass grind of opener ‘Love Someone Else’, the way ‘In The Back Room’ co-opts a weird-disco vibe that pulls strange shadows from the frame of Freddie Mercury’s ‘Living On My Own’, ‘Victim’s atmospheric trip-hop, the propeller-drum QOTSA-stomp in ‘That Sinking Feeling’ or the monster stoner riff that drives ‘Bullets’. On plenty of occasions it reminds you of something else (the melody from ‘Bullets’ appropriates Elbow’s ‘Grounds For Divorce’ note-for-note), but there’s always enough attitude here, not least from singer Skin, to mark each song as distinctively Skunk Anansie. On the likes of ‘Beauty Is Your Curse’ or ‘We Are the Flames’, both songs that could come from any point in their career, they’re inhabiting a space that is entirely their own. There’s always a monster chorus too, dropping in just when you’re ready for it, and smacking you over the head until its shape is imprinted firmly on the inside and outside of your skull.
There’s a couple of staggeringly good moments here - ‘Without You’ is a tingling ballad, Skin’s “I can’t get by without you” chorus pulling an edge of real desperation, you believe her 100 percent; the understated ‘Death To The Lovers’ would have been a huge hit for them back when the public were paying enough attention, and you could give it to any contemporary balladeer and watch the money roll in. Someone should get Adele on the phone.
The album closes with the cathartic ‘I’ll Let You Down’, which seems the oddest title possible for a Skunk Anansie song - letting you down is the one thing they’ve never really done. Their time closing the Pyramid Stage may be a long way behind them, but this is a band that have learned their craft well, that know exactly how to operate the gears and levers in their machinery to produce the best possible version of themselves. No lives will be changed, nor hearts broken, but it does what it needs to do satisfyingly well.
7Marc Burrows's Score