Author Archive: altrockchick

Chumbawamba – Tubthumper – Classic Music Review

Chumbawamba is absolute proof of the utter futility of musical genre classification.

During their thirty-year run, critics and music marketers tried to get their teeny weeny little heads around what Chumbawamba was up to, slotting the band into the following genres: anarcho-punk, pop, folk, world, alternative rock, pop rock, electronic, rock, a cappella, post-punk, folk punk, experimental pop, dance-pop, novelty, electronic and ambient. I suggest that curious readers ignore that barrage of nonsense and direct their attention to the band’s breakup announcement, which is a far more accurate and lucid summary of what Chumbawamba had to offer: “Thirty years of being snotty, eclectic, funny, contrary and just plain weird. What a privilege, and what a good time we’ve had.”

It’s fair to say that Chumbawamba started out as an anarcho-punk band in a DIY-friendly environment that placed little value on musical knowledge or experience. This was fortunate, for the band was so raw and untutored that it took some time for them to realize that guitars needed to be tuned every now and then. Their early recordings consisted of cassette culture demo-quality releases and a couple of inclusions on punk compilation LPs. The music was one-or-two chord distortion at maximum volume with messages focused on anti-authoritarianism, animal rights and pacificism, all of which fit nicely under the umbrella of anarchism.

History has not been kind to anarchists, lumping those who adopt such beliefs as bomb-throwing wackos determined to spread disorder that will destroy our precious way of life. Well, our way of life is certainly precious for those who hold the power and have all the money, but not too precious for those who hold no power at all. “The ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man, the right of every human being to liberty and well-being,” wrote legendary anarchist Emma Goldman, which pretty much encapsulates the über-message in Chumbawamba’s music.

Sounds pretty good to me!

It’s one thing to espouse beliefs and quite another thing to make those beliefs real. The people who formed Chumbawamba did just that, choosing to live together in a squat in Leeds where they embraced the principles of anti-authoritarianism and collectivism. There was no leader; all decisions were made collectively. No one had their own money; all earnings were tossed into a pot for the benefit of the collective. Possessions were shared, including clothing and underwear. Alice Nutter commented on the living arrangements in the twentieth-anniversary band-produced documentary Well Done, Now Sod Off: “People can’t get their heads around the fact that you don’t have individual money and that you can get on with like eight people . . . If you can get through living in a confined space with a lot of other people in intense situations, you can more or less get through anything.” Though their open discussions naturally included plenty of arguing, they always managed to work through the obstacles to achieve consensus.

After a couple of years of hardcore political punk, the collective was getting restless. Looking back at those years, Drummer Harry “Daz” Hamer said “You know, onstage we didn’t look like we were having fun early on. It was our duty to be on stage.” The band had written several songs in support of the 1984-1985 miner’s strike, but their militant vegetarianism and support of animal rights didn’t sit too well with the carnivorous miners. These factors led to a shift in priorities, captured on a sign taped to a wall in the room where they worked out their music: NO WAR but the CLASS WAR. Henceforth the band would prioritize the struggles of the have-nots and the despicable indifference of the haves.

The fun deficit was easily addressed by releasing the latent theatricality of the band members—props, wigs, costumes and pantomime were integrated into their live act. They also began to explore musical possibilities beyond basic punk, expanding the repertoire to include traditional folk, pop-punk and Eurodance. The embrace of dance music may seem like a sharp change in direction, but as Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.” The band members worked hard to develop their vocal and instrumental skills to pull off that change, but despite the adjustments to their sound, Chumbawumba remained a punk band in spirit, lampooning the powerful and defending the rights of the powerless.

During the period from 1986 and 1995 they released several albums on independent labels, finally breaking into the top 40 UK album charts with Anarchy in 1994. The follow-up album (Swinging with Raymond) was something of a disappointment, and once again, the collective decided to change their sound, this time shifting to something in between alternative rock and dance-pop in an attempt to broaden their audience. When they presented Tubthumper to their indie label (One Little Indian), the label refused to release it, likely because they felt the sound was inconsistent with their anarcho-punk brand.

Though Chumbawumba had appeared on a compilation titled Fuck EMI and had attacked the label in a few of their songs, they presented the album to the big bad record company and ended up signing their first big label contract. Longtime fans reacted with outrage and the British music press, who never liked or understood them anyway, piled on with accusations of hypocrisy. The band felt obliged to offer a defense on their website :

We signed to EMI/Universal not because we’d been co-opted into the ‘If you can’t beat capitalism … join it’ school of thought, but because experience had taught us that in a capitalist environment almost every record company operates on capitalist principles. Our previous record label One Little Indian didn’t have the evil symbolic significance of EMI BUT they were completely motivated by profit. Our position was that whoever we signed with would want us not for our ideas but for the potential profit, so we’d battle for a contract where we still had autonomy.

The content of the album pretty much destroys any accusations of a sellout. The whole episode is full of irony: as Boff Whalley noted in the documentary, Chumbawamba didn’t believe in rules, but their fans, who were likely attracted to the band because they broke all the rules, were pissed off because Chumbawamba broke the unwritten rule that DIY bands should only release records on independent labels.

The results speak for themselves. Tubthumper was a worldwide hit and “Tubthumping” became one of the most successful and universally recognizable singles of the era. What’s really impressive is that an album by a bunch of anarchists went triple platinum in the United States, indoctrinating the Millenial generation in anti-capitalist, anti-neo-con, anti-poverty, anti-violence, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, pro-human propaganda.

Signing with EMI turned out to be one of Chumbawamba’s most subversive acts.

Though Tubthumper is split into twelve distinct tracks, the songs flow into one another, resulting in an experience of non-stop action. All the songs are supplemented with complementary material consisting of spoken word inserts, electronic interludes, song fragments and PSAs, melded together in a Pythonesque stream-of-consciousness style. The package also contains extensive liner notes in the form of “Tubtexts” for each song, enough to fill twenty pages of an MS word document. Tubtexts include cheeky commentary, quotations from the famous and infamous, and various forms of reference material. I’ll attach a few Tubtext snippets to help explain each song, but since they’re worth reading in their entirety, I suggest you head over to your local music store and either buy or steal the album (stealing authorized only for those who cannot afford the purchase, per Alice Nutter).

*****

The first sound you hear is a crescendo of synth over shuffling drums . . . then the voice of Pete Postlethwaite as colliery brass band leader in Brassed Off . . . it’s near the end of the film after his now unemployed band members have fought through the shock of the mine closure and won the National Finals: “Truth is, I thought it mattered; I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter” . . . then a quick cut to lo-fi guitar and vocals . . . “We’ll be singing . . . when we’re winning . . . we’ll be singing” . . . KA-BOOM!

I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN
YOU’RE NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN
I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN
YOU’RE NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN
I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN
YOU’RE NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN
I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN
YOU’RE NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN

If I ever get to the point when I feel I’ve lost my touch and instead of exceptionally long music reviews I have to resort to “Greatest ______ of All Time” filler, I guarantee you that “Tubthumping” will be at or near the top of the Greatest Song Introductions of All Time list. Goddamn! If that fifty-one-second passage doesn’t move you to get your ass into gear and get ready to take on the whole fucking world no matter what kind of shit it throws at you, I hereby dis-invite you from my entire life. Go away! I don’t need a bunch of lazy ass wankers clogging up my social calendar! I want to hang with people who demonstrate “the resilience of ordinary people” like these folks who recently weighed in on “Tubthumping” via YouTube:

1 month ago, user Steve Colella

I am 70 yrs old, stage 3 colon cancer and listen to this song every morning before going to cancer clinic for chemo. I will be cancer survivor and this song helps me to get thru a very difficult time.

1 month ago, user Carolyn Allisee

If I had the chance to make any song my personal anthem, this one would be it. OK, I confess, there are no great tragedies in my life, just a constant stream of annoying obstacles and barriers peppered throughout it. Health issues, physical and mental, and all the collateral that came with them, and some very unexpected turns in my life, have meant I’m now back more or less where I started, in the family home, albeit under very different circumstances. Someone once asked me why I didn’t ‘just accept it all as God’s Will’. Sorry, but God’s Will or not, acceptance was not an option. Acceptance meant willingly confining myself to a (metaphorical) small cage with thick metal bars, something I wasn’t only not willing to do, something I found I could not do. Yes, some of what’s happened has placed limitations on my life and what I can do, but with each new impediment, I’ve learned what can be overcome, what can’t, and how to sneak past those things that seem impassable. So I’m always singing “I get knocked down, but I’ll get up again, nothing’s ever going to keep me down!”

3 months ago, user Eldanogrande

Back in the 1990s, I was going for my dream job in a very small and exclusive industry for which I did not have the perfect education or work experience. I was driving home after another crushing disappointment of a job interview and thinking of quitting when I heard this song for the first time on the radio. In three and a half minutes it entirely turned my outlook around. I decided I was never going to give up . . . Thanks Chumbawumba, wherever you are.

Boff Whalley said the song was about “the resilience of ordinary people,” and it’s apparent from those comments—entered into the record more than twenty-five years after the song was released—that “Tubthumping” has exceptional resilience. It’s also a song that has taken on many meanings over the years—a remarkable development given the song’s origin as recalled by Danbert Nobacon in an interview with Maria Sherman of AV Club:

The actual origin of the story was that Boff was in bed at night with his wife and they heard the next-door neighbor coming home. He was super drunk, making a lot of noise. He’s singing “Danny Boy,” which became a lyric in the song. He goes up to the door, he puts his key in, he falls over, and he gets back up. It happened two or three times—he was just so drunk he kept falling over. Eventually he went in and went to bed, presumably, and fell asleep. It just clicked in Boff’s brain when he woke up the next morning. It fit the chorus.

Through the collective imagination, that inebriated figure was transformed into a multi-faceted metaphor expressing undying optimism in the face of life’s endless struggles. It applies to the oppressed struggling against the rich and powerful, to LGBTQ folks and people of color struggling to achieve acceptance in a hostile society, and to those fighting disease and disability. And yes, it applies to football, for everyone knows that fans engage in projection, and the battles on the pitch symbolize their yearning for victory in real life.

The song also meant a great deal to the collective, as vocalist Dunstan Bruce revealed to The Guardian.

The song changed everything. Before “Tubthumping” I felt we were in a mess: we had become directionless and disparate. It’s not our most political or best song, but it brought us back together. The song is about us – as a class and as a band. The beauty of it was we had no idea how big it would be.

Suddenly we were a political band who were being listened to; people were coming to us to ask what we thought of New Labour or Tony Blair.

Alice Nutter expressed similar sentiments in the interview with AV Club:

We made “Tubthumping” at a point when people had written us off. We made a really terrible record before it. We felt like our backs were against a wall, and if we were going to continue to exist as a band, we were going to have to pull together and be really tight. We wanted to prove ourselves to ourselves. It has a whole feel of “if you like it, fine. If you don’t, fuck you.” We all wanted to be there. When I hear the song, I hear that spirit.

As was always the case with Chumbawamba, the composition was a group effort: Whalley supplied the bulk of the lyrics, Alice added the “pissing the night away” passage delivered with ironic beauty by Lou Watts, and Harry Hamer came up with the tune. The soft-loud contrast between the chorus and the “pissing the night away” passage gives us a couple of breath-catching moments while the appearance of the horn section near the end of the piece readies us for the celebratory intensity of the extended fade, where all the parts come together to create a thrilling finale.

And yes, “Tubthumping” is a great drinking song in many respects and recognized as such by the band in the first Tubtext: “Tubthumping” is Shouting to Change The World (then having a drink to celebrate). It’s stumbling home from your local bar, when the world is ready to be PUT RIGHT . . . ” The band imagined the poor sot who inspired the song to have unwisely mixed incompatible quaffs (“He drinks a Whiskey drink, he drinks a Vodka drink/He drinks a Lager drink, he drinks a Cider drink”), which no doubt contributed to his difficulties in navigating the steps to his home. “He sings the songs that remind him of the good times/He sings the songs that remind him of the best/better times,” falling back on the ancient and rather sad classic “Danny Boy.” Americans likely translated “pissing the night away” as the inevitable result of excessive beer-guzzling, whereas in Britain, “getting pissed” means “getting drunk.” Either definition works, strengthening the notion that “Tubthumping” has universal appeal on many levels.

Other favorite Tubtexts (the Baudelaire quote is too long to include here):

  • “DRUNKENNESS, noun: A temporary but popular cure for Catholicism.” Charles T Sprading +
  • “Knock hard, life is deaf.” Mimi Parent +
  • “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Joseph Stilwell, translation of ‘Illegitimati non carborundum’ +

The opening Tubtext for “Amnesia” argues that “A change of Government is no guarantee of getting policies which put people before profit . . . as proved by the British Labour Party’s past record. Short-term solution, long-term procrastination.” In an interview with MTV, Boff connected the dots for the Americans in the listening audience: “It applies, like across the board, in the sense that it’s just about the idea that people forget that what Bill Clinton says before he gets elected is not what Bill Clinton will do when he’s in office, and that’s not about Bill Clinton, that’s about all politicians.” An even clearer picture of the situation can be found in the Tubtexts:

Our democracy is but a name. We vote. What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats; We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” Helen Keller, 1911 letter to British suffragists +

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never experienced an election in either the USA or France where the outcome hasn’t been a disappointment, even when my candidate won. I’ve voted against more than I’ve voted for. Everyone nearly everywhere complains about the government, then everyone nearly everywhere turns right around and re-elects the incumbents. “Amnesia” is really about two forms of amnesia—that which inflicts politicians who forget about all their grand promises once they’ve secured power and the amnesia of the voting public who allow themselves to be suckered every time:

You sing the same old verse
Stick like glue for better or worse
What goes around comes around
Again again again
This heart pulled apart
Hydra fighting head to head
Burns are red bruises blue
Out with the old cheated by the new 

Do you suffer from long-term memory loss?
I don’t remember.

Now that so many of our politicians have been exposed as criminals, the chorus can also be applied to those who frequently take the Fifth (in the US) or whose responses include countless variations of “I can’t recall.”

The song is set to a driving dance beat, enhanced by distorted power chords and bright trumpets. Lou Watts delivers an exceptionally strong vocal, while Jude Abbott drops her trumpet for a moment to add a beautiful layer of harmony to the chorus. I’m sure the sound of the record pissed off both the people at One Little Indian and diehard punk purists, demonstrating their appalling ignorance of pop music history. Allow me to remind them that “For What It’s Worth,” “Eve of Destruction,” “In the Ghetto” and many others were protest songs that became Top 10 hits, reaching millions of people and changing more than a few minds about war and injustice.

Dear Purists: You can’t change the world if you’re living in a cul-de-sac.

I also love the insert following the song proper: “Cut the head in half using a band saw and scoop the brains out. Blast the brains out with mortar or air. Suck the brain out through a hole in the head.” Using a UK Government PSA describing the proper way to dispose of cow brains ridden with mad cow disease triggers wicked thoughts of applying something similar to brain-dead politicians. The insert also connects with something Boff Whalley said about his early influences: “I’d been into some like weird stuff before that . . . basically like Bonzo Dog Band and Frank Zappa . . . sort of theatrical type things.” There are certainly echoes of The Bonzos’ dadaist music and Zappa’s iconoclasm in Chumbawamba’s music.

The next two songs deal with the homelessness crisis that has bedeviled policymakers for decades. What those geniuses never include in their calculus is that the cause of homelessness is free-market capitalism that prioritizes the right of landlords to make profits on their investments over the fundamental human need for shelter.

The opening Tubtexts for “Drip, Drip, Drip” put you right into the very ugly picture:

  • “Nobody chooses to live in slums – but some make a good living from renting them out. +
  • “The interest of the landlords is always opposed to the interest of every other class in the community.” David Ricardo +

“Drip Drip Drip” is an unusual call-and-response song, with Danbert Nobacon taking the verses in the role of evil fart landlord and a choral section taking verse and bridge. Nobacon plays the sadistic proprietor so effectively that I want to reach through my speakers and choke him, but the chorus is equally effective in reminding me that getting rid of one slumlord won’t change the sad reality for the many people who live in broken-down flats with leaky roofs and faucets and have no viable options because they’re one missed paycheck away from living in the streets:

(Landlord)

Eat, sleep and crap
For to prey on your needs
Down a dark street
In backwater Leeds
I seen yer comin’
Come in, lads!
You seen this ad?
Too bad, bad, bad
What you get
Is what you see
It’s a trickle-down theory
And it’s coming to me
Life’s a whip-round
And I’ve got the whip
It’s a sinking ship
Drip, drip, drip

(Chorus)

Drip, drip, drip goes the water (4)

Take me in
Throw me out
Put me up
Let me down

As much as I needle my father about our musical differences, I have the utmost respect for his management of six rental properties in San Francisco. After realizing that life as a government social worker wasn’t his idea of making a difference, he went back to work for his father’s construction firm, saved up some money and started buying fixer-uppers during a rare down market in San Francisco real estate. After restoring a property and ensuring everything was in working order, he rented it out. His method for choosing a tenant was unusual. He dispensed with applications and credit checks, using conversations with prospective tenants to help him decide if he could trust them enough not to blow up the place. He set the rent by asking the prospective tenant what they could afford, compared that number to average monthly maintenance costs and set the rent at the lower of those two numbers. He never broke even on the rent and never evicted a tenant even when they were months behind on their rental payments. You may think, “The guy was a fucking idiot,” but his reasoning was sound. He’d grown up in the Haight, where homelessness became painfully common in the post-psychedelic era and hated the idea of human beings living outside in the cold and fog. He knew damn well he was eventually going to make a ton of money through appreciation and felt it was therefore unfair to exploit his tenants. Since my mother made good money through her translation services, there was no need to charge more than what the tenants could afford.

Sorry for the long personal story, but homelessness is a big issue for me and I wanted to share a rare example of what happens when compassion trumps greed.

And voilà, the next song about homelessness is titled “The Big Issue.” Tubtext: “THE BIG ISSUE It’s plain mathematics: for the rich to get richer, some of us have to stay poor. But in ‘I’m alright Jack’ England, reason is in short supply. Everything is blamed on the individual. You lost your job! Lazy bastard! You lost your home! You inadequate bastard! Blaming homelessness on the homeless is as stupid as blaming poverty on the poor. +” Capitalist politicians on both the right and the left always promise to rid the environment of these unsightly people (see Tubtexts under “The Big Issue” for the appallingly similar views of Tory John Major and “New Labour” Tony Blair) and then do little to secure those people housing.

The song opens with a chilling a capella segment to establish the scene:

There are those
Spend the night
Under bridges
Over by the river
Down in the park
Through the winter
But there’s a house
That I know
Safe and warm
And no one ever goes there
Down where the priests
Bless the wine

The music takes a hard turn towards something between alternative rock and hip-hop as Alice Nutter shares the story of a girl “born into the wrong time.” “She’s a poet she’s a builder,” a “have not and a know-all” who “knows just how to say yes” (prostitution?) and whose trajectory has collapsed due to the realities of homelessness:

But sometimes in the dead of night
Woken by the city lights
She wonders how she keeps alive . . .

This is the girl who
Lost the house which
Paid to the man who
Put up the rent and
Threw out the girl to
Feather his own sweet home 

Meanwhile, “the Good Samaritan looks away and carries on.” As long as the majority looks away, does nothing except complain about the unpleasantness of it all and refuses to accept the homeless as human beings who caught a bad break, nothing will change. Kudos to Chumbawamba for at least trying to wake people from their comfortable slumbers.

Tubtexts: “THE GOOD SHIP LIFESTYLE ‘Lifestylism’ is the practise of wrapping yourself in a blinkered, self-perfecting, ideologically-sound cocoon. The captain of The Good Ship Lifestyle rarely leaves his bedroom. He makes pronouncements on how other people should live but doesn’t keep his own rules. His idea of politics is not to Fight The Power but to fight the imagined enemies on his own side… + “Nothing like the cocoon of unreality when your life’s fucked.” Answer Me! Magazine +

Hmm. Sounds like nothing had changed in the Mother Country since Ray Davies wrote “Shangri-La,” except Arthur promoted himself to captain.

Yeah. Why bother with the homeless or other unpleasantries when you can tuck your head up your ass in your little cozy piece of paradise?

This is the Good Ship Lifestyle
I fly my very own flag
TV dinners for one
At the captain’s table
Repel all the boarders!
Draw the curtains tighter!

If they’d written the song twenty or so years later I’m sure they would have added the line, “Vote for Brexit!” The cocoon people are how you end up with stupid shit like Brexit and Donald Trump. What they don’t realize is that it is indeed a road to nowhere:

Sail away from the world
Sail away from the world

So steer a course
A course for nowhere
And drop the anchor
My little empire

I’m going nowhere (This is the Good Ship Lifestyle)

I love the contrasts in this piece—the faux braggadocio in Dunstan’s lead vocal contrasts nicely with the three-part harmonies on the chorus; the relaxed rhythm of the verses flips to a more urgent beat in the chorus, with minor chords helping to sound the alarm.

“One by One” is “Dedicated to the striking Liverpool Dockers who are taking on the Merseyside Docks Harbour Company and the British State without ‘official’ union support – to all workers who take on bosses . . . and to those who fight with them.” That’s a pretty loaded Tubtext, so let me give you a condensed version of what happened. Thatcher and the Tories passed several anti-union laws in the 80s and 90s which gradually reduced workers’ rights and living standards. Mersey Docks was allowed to hire contractors at cheaper rates, but five workers employed by one of those contractors were sacked in a dispute involving overtime . . . then those sacked workers set up a picket line that their fellow workers refused to cross, so they were sacked, too . . . then the members of the much larger TGWU union refused to cross that picket line and Mersey Docks decided that they had sacked themselves by not crossing the picket line . . . and the gutless union leaders failed to back them up. The dispute lasted twenty-eight months and did not result in the reinstatement of the workers, only modest financial settlements (supplemented by donations from concerned citizens like Noel Gallagher).

Chumbawamba chose to open the song with the sounds of a church organ and choir, conveying a mood approaching mourning. The lyrics to this passage deliberately echo the actions of another historical figure who feigned impotence:

Pontius Pilate came to our town
Up to the dockyards to see the picket line
We asked him to help but he just turned around
He’s the leader of the union now
Leader of the union
All of our questions he ignored
He washed his hands and he dreamed of his reward
A seat in the House of Lords

That last line proved to be prescient, as Bill Morris, the General Secretary of the TGWU at the time (and the first black leader of a major UK union) did wind up serving in the House of Lords from 2006 to 2020.

The music shifts to a minor key shuffle to relate the tale of betrayal, with the welcome introduction of a piano blending well with the beautiful yet sorrowful melody.

The tubtext dedicates “Outsider” to “Me, you, she, he. For the community of outsiders, misfits, and plain awkward bastards.” Given their pedigree, Chumbawamba’s definition of “outsider” would consist of all the groups locked out of the power party: women, gays, transsexuals, people of color, immigrants, introverts with no desire to conform to extrovert standards, members of all sexes who fall short of reaching cultural definitions of beauty, a good chunk of the working classes . . . I could go on and on. Depending on the context, everyone on the planet feels like an outsider at one time or another. It’s too bad that outsiders who achieve power, wealth and fame often forget where they came from and what it felt like to be on the outside looking in.

And that’s the point of this marvelous little number marked by extreme poetic economy. When you do a rough calculation of the number of people in the outsider groups listed above, it’s pretty obvious that outsiders are in the majority. After repeating the word “outsider” with times in a successful effort to parrot the looped reminders to outsiders that they are “less than,” the inner voice of the outsider starts to wake up and join the resistance:

I’m not alone/You’re not alone (repeated)

Outsider (repeated 8 times)

You see me
You hear me
There are millions . . . think just like me

I’m not alone/You’re not alone (repeated)

The music appropriately intensifies during the “You see me/You hear me” revelation, making a turn from low-key “in your head” music mumblings to liberating bash. By the end of the song, I start to muse on the possibilities of forming a broad coalition of outsiders to get rid of all the fame-clinging arrogant insiders who revel in their power and the luxury of utter incompetence.

Just a thought.

I don’t know if Hank Marvin listened to Tubthumper, but if he did I’m sure he would have felt honored by the duplication of Shadows-style guitar that opens “Creepy Crawling.” The riff feels rather refreshing after several songs dominated by Chumbawamba’s version of a wall of sound (which is only used here to emphasize the chorus). The tone and riff pattern form a suitably creepy intro, somewhere between The Munsters and “Secret Agent Man,” while weird boing-boing noises and dampened background voices complete the picture of evil lurking in working-class neighborhoods.

“Creepy Crawling” is about those alt-universe Robin Hoods who steal from the poor and keep the loot for themselves. The tubtexts for the song make several salient points:

  • “Wake up at 4 am to find your front door kicked in and the television gone. Creeps steal from those who can least afford it. +”
  • “This is a working class area. Don’t steal from your own!” From sticker, 1995 +
  • “Inequality is the source of all revolutions; no compensation can make up for inequality.” Aristotle, Politics +
  • “Crime is as endemic to modern capitalism as pollution is to industrialism.” Class War, from ‘No Justice, Just Us’ +

When I was a kid I’d always wondered why there were so many barred windows in the poor neighborhoods of the Bay Area but none in the wealthy enclaves. My mother sighed and explained, “Because it’s easier to steal from the poor and get away with it.” That answer didn’t make sense to me and still doesn’t. As Chumbawama phrased it, “How can stealing candy from a baby seem alright?”

I oscillate between bright hope and utter despair when it comes to the human race.

“Mary Mary” isn’t a Monkees cover but a riot-grrrl-influenced tale of the contrary version of Mary—the Mary that has no aspirations whatsoever to adopt the persona of the ultimate virgin and completely rejects the notion that Christ’s mama is “Blessed art Thou amongst women.” The Hail Mary is repeated in the background throughout the song; the Tubtexts present a vision of the anti-Mary through references to the riot-grrrl manifesto and the anarchist-feminist Emma Goldman:

  • Feminism doesn’t mean being anti-sex with a sense of humour by-pass; some of us are demanding the right to be sexual and safe. Saintly womanhood leaves a lot to be desired. It can be boring and lonely on a pedestal. And growing old doesn’t mean growing more conventional – women of every age want a revolution they can dance to. +
  • “While men tend to gain social prestige as they age, the opposite is true for women who are given little real power at any age, and are frequently viewed as one-dimensional sexual objects – thus losing our usefulness as we age.” Manifesto of Riot Girl (Taken from Zines) +

Alice plays the anti-Mary with noticeable relish, spitting out her distaste of virgin modeling and defiantly embracing the “unfeminine” opposites:

No virgin me for I have sinned
I sold my soul for sex and gin
Go call the Priest all meek and mild
And tell them Mary is no more a child . . .

I’ll spit on floors and do more drugs
Burn every bill, get drunk on love
Wear next to nothing in the pouring rain
Be a bad example and do it all again

The female chorus adopts the more pristine tone of a woman on the fence who finally decides to go the full-slut route:

I’m so up and down
And I love what’s not allowed
I was lost, now I see
And now I’m growing old disgracefully

Meanwhile, the heavily male chorus bemoans the loss of a promising piece of ass who refuses to be a good girl. You can hear them shaking their collective heads as they sing “Whatever happened to Mary?”

Answer: Mary decided to reject a lifetime of second-class status and do whatever the fuck she wants to do.

Vive la révolution!

I find the opening tubtext for “Smalltown” rather depressing, as something inside me wishes it weren’t true: “SMALLTOWN When you can’t change small minds… you have to leave them behind.”

Then I read another tubtext and had to admit it’s true: “People act upon their immediate, distorted impulses without thinking. Violence pacifies them. They overpower their victims like a pack of wild dogs. Like a swarm of bees they attack. Fights arise from stupid conversations and silly misunderstandings until someone gets hurt. If a person thinks or looks different, people condemn by reflex. Fuck that! I root for the underdog in all situations.” (Answer Me! Magazine)

My reluctance to accept the apparent truth is that people with small minds vote en masse for pseudo-nazis like Trump and LePen. The liberal strategy regarding those people has been arrogant dismissal that only strengthens their hatred of the educational elite.

Then again, the song speaks the truth when it comes to small minds and the tragic impossibility of finding common ground: small minds hate people who are different. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I can easily relate to the fear and loathing described in the song:

. . . And all I know
Is guilt for being different 

It’s always raining stones
There’s a killer in the home
In a small town
Everybody looks the same
There are unwritten rules
Unspoken words
Should I pack my fear and go? 

I have to leave somehow
Before they run me out of town
I have to leave somehow

My partner and I never really feel entirely safe showing affection in public, even in “safe cities.” I can’t even begin to imagine the fear that trans people have to live with, as they are easy targets for small minds. The food-for-thought message is accompanied by an arrangement that has a soft jazz/house music feel with appropriately uneven phrasing that reflects the narrator’s dilemma.

Damn, I love music that deals with real shit.

“I Want More” is succinctly described in the Tubtext: “This is Tearoom England: the class system in microcosm. The worst bigotry can have the best table manners.” All you have to do is read the history to realize that beneath the calculated veneer of the British as civilized and mannered people is a whole lot of ugly shit.

While I admire the ironic accuracy of “This is Tearoom England/They’ll kick your face in/Oh so nicely,” I’ve never really connected with this song. In truth, my favorite part of the track appears at the end of the interlude under the subheading “Saturday night in Leeds.” This mini-passage features a bloke who admits that “Saturday night means everything to me: I’ve got to take drugs and have sex” and a lass who claims “I’m always getting my skirt pulled up.”

I hope those two don’t go home together.

“Scapegoat” ends the album with an anti-racist message masquerading as an exceedingly pleasant pop tune. Though the lyrics do not specifically mention race, there are obvious clues in the song that point the listener in that direction. All you have to do is remember these equations: immigrants = people of color;  immigrants = people who are not white like me. First, the tubtexts:

  • At the height of apartheid there were more black men in British jails than there were in jails in South Africa. Britain’s mucky colonial past lives on, in the mistrust of anybody who isn’t a whiter shade of pale – the State still institutionalises racism knowing that when the “black ghettos ”explode then white society can tell itself that its fear of “the other” is justified… +
  • “There has always been racism. But it developed as a leading principle of thought and perception in the context of colonialism. That’s understandable. When you have your boot on someone’s neck, you have to justify it. The justification has to be their depravity. It’s very striking to see this in the case of people who aren’t very different from one another. Take a look at the British conquest of Ireland, the earliest of the Western colonial conquests. It was described in the same terms as the conquest of Africa. The Irish were a different race. They weren’t human. They weren’t like us. We had to crush and destroy them. No. It has to do with conquest, with oppression. If you’re robbing somebody, oppressing them, dictating their lives, it’s a very rare person who can say: “Look, I’m a monster. I’m doing this for my own good.” Even Himmler didn’t say that. A standard technique of belief formation goes along with oppression, whether it’s throwing them in gas chambers or charging them too much at a corner store, or anything in between. The standard reaction is to say: ‘It’s their depravity. That’s why I’m doing it. Maybe I’m even doing them good.’ If it’s their depravity, there’s got to be something about them that makes them different from me. What’s different about them will be whatever you can find.” Noam Chomsky +

When I listen to this song, I harbor the hope that a very white woman singing the following lines will somehow get through the thick heads of the fragile white people who think the color of their skin endows them with the privilege to view people of color and immigrants with foreign accents as less-than-human:

Backed into a corner he barricades his life
Fastens up the shutters every night
This island is big enough for every castaway
But most of us are looking round for someone else to blame

Scapegoat
Looking for a scapegoat
There’s always someone else for you to blame

Nah. UKIP built much of their Brexit campaign around scapegoating and a lot of dumb sods who believed that the island wasn’t big enough for all those disgusting castaways voted accordingly. Hope you’re enjoying your collapsing economy and chronic labor shortages!

After an extended moment of silence, the album goes full circle by reintroducing the now tear-drenched voice of Pete Postlewaithe after the colliery band’s winning performance: “Boy, they can knock out a pretty good tune. But what the fuck does that matter? (Pause, labored breathing). “But I’m going to take my boys out on the town.”

Chumbawamba created a full album of pretty good tunes, but you may ask “What the fuck does that matter?” We haven’t experienced anything close to a revolution that places people over profit and most people will tell you that the world is in a terrible state, with the Doomsday Clock edging as close to midnight as it’s ever been.

Well, you have two choices. You can either go into whiny moaner mode, protecting your little corner of the world and let the rest of the world fuck off or . . . you can go out on the town with your mates, get drunk enough to stifle any sense of embarrassment and engage the whole fucking place in a sing-along:

I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN
YOU’RE NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN
I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN
YOU’RE NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN
I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN
YOU’RE NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN
I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN
YOU’RE NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN

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