The Slackers have been around for twenty-five years and this, their fourteenth album, The Slackers (2016), opens in a similar way to the first song of theirs I ever heard – ‘Watch This‘ on Hellcat Records‘ first Give’ Em the Boot compilation (1997) – which instantly made me crave more: brass. Damn catchy brass. Indeed, the first track, ‘By the Time I Get to Sleep’, features everything that tells you you’re listening to The Slackers: quirky old-school brass and Vic Ruggiero’s gravelly-smooth and smoothly-gravelly voice singing Vic Ruggiero’s signaturely-bleak lyrics: “Lying dead in the street / By the time I get to sleep”.
When I describe the brass as “quirky old-school”, I should make a confession. I am a self-described lover of ska, reggae, and any and all of its derivatives and off-shoots. However, I couldn’t confidently make much of a distinction between, for instance, ’60s ska, reggae or rocksteady – I just know what I love; and I love it all. This being the case, and my habit of songs reminding me of other songs being what it is, I can’t help – and will in this review – allude to other songs with completely inappropriate comparisons. So please excuse any errors(!)
That said, when I refer to “quirky old-school” brass, I mean something quite particular: horns sections that sound like those of The Skatalites. And these are in abundance; notably in the first two tracks – ‘By the Time I Get to Sleep’ and ‘The Boss’ – ‘I Want to Be Your Girl’ and ‘Chewing On a Face’. Meanwhile, one of my favourite tracks, ‘Spin I’m In’, aside from having a brilliant title, slows things down considerably with what I will (probably incorrectly) describe as a rocksteady vibe. With a steady groove and jangly piano keys, its chorus is characteristically-Vic:
Talk to me while I breathe
Love me now before I leave
It’s just the spin I’m in
That makes it seem such a sin
The seventh track, ‘Pockets of a Rich Man’, is the second of my favourites, and brings to my mind a couple of other songs. Opening with simultaneously struck guitar and the whistling ooze of an organ, it is a mid-tempo song whose rhythm reminds me of ‘Running from Safety’ from the Chris Murray-Slackers collaboration album, Slackness (2005). At the same time, Vic’s voice when he offers some “la-la-las” makes me think quite specifically of the second verse of Bob Dylan‘s title track from his 1970 album New Morning (the one where he looks like James McAvoy on the cover*). …I did say I relate songs to other songs. Anyway, this song is bloody great.
‘Truth Comes Knocking’ opens with ’60s-sounding guitars, has a wonderful keyboard solo and is ridiculously catchy. This song, along with ‘Run Till We Can’t Outrun’, features Glen Pine on vocals; and the latter, in contrast to the implication of its title, is particularly calming. There’s also, among others, the experimental ‘Things I Can’t Forget’, which it is easier simply to recommend rather than describe. I will say that it’s got some great sax. I haven’t looked into how it was recorded, but the whole album has a slightly echoey, live feel which upon first listen I wasn’t sure about, but having listened to it three times, I can confidently say works very well with the genres on offer.
Finally, we have ‘Spaceman 3104’. I’ve described in a much earlier post how much I delight I get in listening to albums on night-time drives, believing the darkness and consequent emphasis on sound improves the listening experience. Well, I first listened to this album on a three-and-a-half-hour drive back from Cornwall on a peaceful, darkened evening, having had a weekend catching up with an old university housemate – and I don’t think there is a better environment in which to experience this song. In fact, I listened to this song a further ten times in a row. It is dreamy, beautiful, perfect. Often people will say that an album is worth its full price for one song; I have never before had that thought – until now. Just buy the album and listen. I’m seeing the band at Camden Underworld next month (a year since I last saw them there). It’ll be my second time seeing this fantastic band and I can’t wait. I hope they play some of these songs.
I’ll end with the wonderful words of Vic Ruggiero:
These stars belong to us
*It’s probably more chronologically-accurate to say that some twenty/twenty-five years later, James McAvoy looks like Bob Dylan from the cover of his 1970 album New Morning.