Tag Archives: Dunstan Bruce

Chumbawamba – Anarchy – Classic Music Review

The prevailing myth is the older you get, the more conservative you get. You take fewer chances. You become more resistant to change. You want to protect what’s yours. You abandon the liberal leanings of your youth and start voting for Tories and Republicans because they’re really good at exploiting your fear of losing it all to immigrants and slackers.

I seem to be going in an entirely different direction, neither toward the left nor toward the right. I want to blow it all up and start over. I just wish I could figure out a way to blow it all up without anyone getting hurt.

As they say, “Shit happens,” and after a sweet period of post-marital bliss, the shit is happening to me right now. It’s nothing compared to the shit going on in the Middle East, just irritating, distracting, anxiety-provoking shit that may turn into life-changing shit.

I should have been home in Nice by now but the utter stupidity of the French government gave me little choice but to stay put in Ireland. I fucking knew that when they banned Muslim girls from wearing abayas in schools a couple of months ago it would lead to reprisals, and sure enough, a fanatic killed a teacher and wounded two others. In response, Macron put the country on high alert and called up 7000 troops. As of this writing, the Louvre has been evacuated once, Versailles Palace twice (wait a minute—thrice) and fourteen airports closed due to bomb threats, including Nice. The government claims they’re crank calls, but it hardly matters. A poll released today showed that 84% of the populace are deeply concerned about a terrorist attack.

With the country under a terror alert, we sure as hell didn’t want to go home to Nice. We missed the 2016 attack on the Promenade because we were in San Francisco for my Irish-side grandfather’s funeral but we all thought it prudent to avoid tempting fate a second time. The Hamas-Israel conflict only made things worse, increasing danger levels in the Mediterranean and doubling the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Continental Europe. Italy and Slovenia have already tightened their borders in response to terrorist buzz.

The combination of climate change and the emergence of Trumpist populism in France had already inspired discussions about relocation, and the terror alert broke the camel’s back for my parents: they’ve decided to sell their house in Nice and make Ireland their permanent home. Alicia and I will stay in Ireland through the end of the year but we remain up in the air about our future. I love the cooler weather here and I’ve made a few friends, but like all EU countries, Ireland is a nanny state and I’ve never been a person who likes being told what to do or how to behave. Give me my constitutionally-protected right to health care then leave me the fuck alone.

I find myself in a conundrum. Maybe I should start my own country. The Queendom of Ariellia! No weapons! No military! No stupid people allowed! Pleasurable vices encouraged! A police force staffed by dominatrixes armed with bullwhips!

Fantasies aside, here’s the thing: all of the challenges I’m facing right now are government-created. I’ll also point out that governments have failed to end wars, halt global warming, alleviate massive income inequality, eliminate discrimination and effectively address the issue of immigration. Any employee with a record like that would be sacked in seconds, so why do we continue to put up with the same incompetence in governments?

As I weigh my options, I thought I’d consult with a band of anarchists to see what they have to offer.


The cover depicts the act that pro-lifers exalt above all others, but some retailers found the cover so offensively unpleasant that they refused to stock the album while others slipped the album into plain sleeves so that the eyes of record buyers would be shielded from the ugly truth about human birth. Apple Music and Spotify sided with the squeamish and replaced clit-and-kid with this:

Oh yeah, that cover screams anarchy. Round up all the English gardeners!

My take is that the original cover is a classic anarchist provocation designed to expose human hypocrisy: “We love babies but spare us from the ugly reality of birth.” I don’t mind the cover at all; I’m just glad that it’s not my clit quivering in agony. Boff Whalley spoke about the cover’s origins in a Bandcamp interview:

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a picture of someone being born, because it asks questions about obscenity and reality?’ We found a children’s book called How Babies are Born or something, and it still got banned! When we pointed out it came from a book for seven- or eight-year-olds, they said it was obscene and we had to keep it under the counter. For a while we told people it was a photograph of Danbert being born and they were like, ‘Oh yeah, I can tell!’”

Despite the hoo-hah over the cover, Anarchy was the first Chumbawamba album to make it to the U.K. Top 30 and two of the singles managed to creep into the lower reaches of the chart. Much of the success can be credited to the use of more pop-friendly formats like techno, rave and hip-hop, but there are also noticeable improvements in musicianship and greater diversity in instrumentation. It’s not quite Tubthumper, but much of the music foreshadows that anarchic masterpiece.


Side One

“Give the Anarchist a Cigarette”: Chumbawamba was way ahead of Joni Mitchell in claiming that Bob Dylan was a fraud. I found an excellent explanation of the story and motivations behind this piece written by (user name) “steev” on Everything2:

The title refers to Bob Dylan. Dylan was at one point in an interview told (by manager Albert Grossman) that people were referring to him as an anarchist. He replied gruffly, “Albert, give the anarchist a cigarette”, essentially shrugging off the idea with a sarcastic joke. To anyone knowing the tremendous social influence and power that Dylan’s early songs had, this comment is incredibly cynical and displays a fundamental shift in Dylan’s politics and outlook on his own role in society.

Chumbawamba was not inclined to show the future Nobel Prize winner any mercy. The song opens with a sarcastic round of “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah,” followed by a blast of rock noise and Danbert Nobacon’s spoken introduction: “Albert! Who? Bobby! Who? For god’s sake, burn it down!” The music immediately explodes onto the scene with extended power chords, “Daz” Hamer’s punctuating bash and the simultaneous appearance of Lou Watts and Alice Nutter harmonizing on the chorus:

Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of help
Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of…

Yep, ol’ Bob lost the fire in his belly and was no longer interested in stoking the fires of revolution. The power play then gives way to a slightly quieter but no less intense arrangement of bass, drums and trumpet heralding the chorus. The repeated line is delivered via female harmony and the punch lines by Nobacon (italics mine):

Give the anarchist a cigarette
‘Cause that’s as close as he’s ever gonna get
Give the anarchist a cigarette
Bobby just hasn’t learned it yet
Give the anarchist a cigarette
The times are changing, but he just forgets
Give the anarchist a cigarette
He’s gonna to choke on his harmonica, Albert


The song continues in the alternating pattern of LOUD/softer, with an instrumental interlude of hot guitar serving as an extra shot of rock energy. The arrangement proves to be intensely exciting, in large part due to the tightness and undeniable passion of the band members.

My take on Dylan is a bit more merciful. He did some great stuff early on and had an enormous, positive influence on the budding songwriters of the era . . . then he got older, found religion, became a bore and wound up starring in a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler. Still, I can identify with the outrage expressed by the band because none of us likes it when the people we turn into heroes turn out to be sellouts.

“Timebomb”: This piece opens with lines sung in a capella three-part harmony, lines that will be familiar to every Baby Boomer and hopefully to people in later generations possessed with enough curiosity to explore the great songs of yesteryear:

Stop now
What’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop now
What’s that sound . . .

The singing ends abruptly, replaced by the disturbing sound of a timebomb ticking away.

The lines are repeated as the band shifts to full power mode; an elongated power chord marks the transition to chorus and verse and a vocal duet featuring Lou and Alice:

I am a timebomb
A ticking ticking ticking timebomb
I am a timebomb
A ticking ticking ticking timebomb

Unattended on the railway station
In the litter at the dancehall
Sitting pretty near the fast food counter
In the backseat of a Vauxhall

Okay, I understand that terrorists can plant bombs in the most mundane places, but I’m a bit confused as to why they chose to personify the timebomb. I still find myself befuddled after another round of chorus, verse and “For What It’s Worth,” but the fog clears in the closing stanza:

And all the timebombs
They’re all dancing to the same song
In a world full of no ones
I am a someone

Ah! How often have we heard a terrorist or mass shooter described as a “timebomb ready to go off” in the post-mortem analyses? And how many times have we heard family and acquaintances describe the perpetrator as “someone who pretty much kept to himself,” or in other words, a “no one?” Social alienation results from a variety of causes and takes many forms, but the hatred engendered when one is classified as a nobody—whether you’re talking about immigrants or losers like Lee Harvey Oswald—can turn nobodies into timebombs in a heartbeat. Human beings have never been very good at inclusivity, whether it involves people of different races, people who embrace non-standard lifestyles or people who lack the social skills to break through the barriers of exclusion.

Much of the blame for the current situation in France can be found in the collective desire to preserve French culture, resulting in an immigration policy that emphasizes assimilation. The policy creates legions of no ones, largely immigrants of color from the former French colonies. I know from personal experience that it’s impossible for anyone to fully rid themselves of the traditions and habits of the culture of origin. A part of me will always be American, whether I like it or not.

Earlier this month I read an article about immigration policy in another EU country that recently welcomed 3,000 immigrants under a far more enlightened approach:

The country’s newest citizens were encouraged to embrace the opportunity of community and to contribute, to bring new professionals, entertainers, sports stars. But in his mass conferring of recipients, retired judge Bryan MacMahon reminded them of the importance of past and heritage in a country that knows its meaning well.

“Do not forget your own country, you are not betraying your own country, your own people, your own traditions,” he said. “Bring with you your songs, your music and your stories. We welcome them.”

Outside, shortly after the first of three ceremonies, Cork resident Chikondi Sinalo from Malawi, sporting a bright waistcoat and black trilby, reflected on the day. “What caught me the most was when the Minister mentioned that being Irish doesn’t mean you have to forget yourself, it doesn’t mean to forget your culture,” he said. “It is a merging of lots of cultures that makes Irish culture so diverse.”

I bet all of those 3,000 people feel like someones.

“Homophobia”: The song begins with a snippet from Bing Crosby’s 1936 recording of “Let’s Call a Heart a Heart” (“But if we’re to have a perfect understanding . . . “) followed by a woman issuing a warning about anarchists: “This time, not one nation against others, but an organization trying to destroy all governments.” The jolly bit of whistling that follows seems to form the reply, “Well, whatever, honey.”

It’s very hard for me to listen to this song, though I know it speaks the truth. It isn’t so much my own bisexuality as it is the lasting memories of friendships I formed with gay men in the Castro while living in San Francisco. One friendship came about after I read Story of O for the first time and wanted to learn more about BDSM. I talked to a friend who worked at one of the restaurants in the neighborhood; he said he knew of one man in particular who was considered “the wise man” in such matters and he’d try to set up a meet-and-greet. I met Greg (not his real name) a couple of weeks later; his graying temples told me he was in his 40s or early 50s and his warm, friendly greeting was not what I expected from an acknowledged BDSM master. Over the following months, we had several conversations, and though I was a novice, he never made me feel like I had asked a stupid question. He was also a photographer, and after I finished college I asked him to do a nude photo shoot of me in BDSM gear. “Well, you’ll certainly be safe with me, as I have no interest in women at all,” he laughed. I always felt safe with him, physically and psychologically.

That such a kind, generous and loving soul lived in danger of homophobic thugs who would like nothing more than to take a crowbar to his brains makes me sick and angry.

The liner notes tell us that “‘Homophobia’ is the true tale of a young gay man who was kicked to death outside a toilet.” The music is traditional English folk, and in a brilliant move, Chumbawamba employed the a capella vocal skills they’d developed on English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 in the opening verse, virtually forcing the listener to pay close attention to the details of the atrocity:

Up behind the bus stop in the toilets off the street
There are traces of a killing on the floor beneath your feet
Mixed up with the piss and beer are bloodstains on the floor
From the boy who got his head kicked in a night or two before

Though light traditional instrumentation courtesy of the Bedlam Rovers appears in the chorus, the vocals remain front and center throughout the song:

The worst disease
You can’t love who you want to love in times like these

The demons who prey upon gay men can often be found in the usual places that breed toxic masculinity:

In the pubs, clubs and burgerbars breeding pens for pigs
Alcohol, testosterone and ignorance and fist
Packs of hunting animals roam across the town
They find an easy victim and they punch him to the ground

Tough guys, right? According to a 1996 study I found in the National Library of Medicine, the more accurate label would be “tough guys in denial”:

The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n = 35) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n = 29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W. W. Hudson & W. A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.

Coming out is never easy, but it begs the question: “If love is generally considered a good thing, why do we have to ‘come out’ at all?” The answer is obviously “stigmatization and homophobic rage,” which leads to another question: “What drives stigmatization and homophobic rage?” Chumbawamba gets an A+ for their succinct and spot-on response:

The siren of the ambulance the deadpan of the cops
Chalk to mark the outline where the boy first dropped
Beware the holy trinity – church and state and law
For every death the virus gets more deadly then before

I’ll assume that the majority of my readers are adherents to some form of organized religion, but I’m one of those people who never knows when to shut up and I’m pretty sure I’m going to offend most of my audience with what I’m about to reveal. From my perspective as a bisexual woman, I classify nearly all organized religions as hate groups and believe they bear as much responsibility for the violence against LGBTQ+ people as the poor bastards who are confused about their sexuality. As for the other two parts of the holy trinity, I would point out that most anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is justified in the name of religion.

Who someone chooses to love is nobody’s business but their own, and no, I don’t consider pedophilia “love.” And yes, I do prefer the traditional folk original to the more rocking Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence version.

I’ll shut up now.

“On Being Pushed”: Tubthumper is loaded with several short diversions consisting of interview snippets, musique concrète, PSA’s and sound experiments that are integrated into the songs. Anarchy contains similar diversions that are listed as separate tracks. In the scheme of things, I don’t think it makes that much difference. This thirty-one-second funk diversion serves as a much-needed intermission after two pretty heavy numbers.

“Heaven/Hell”: This techno-dance number deals with living in a push-pull world on the knife edge of opposing forces, which pretty much describes Chumbawamba: an anarchist collective living in the midst of a capitalist society trying to deliver an anti-capitalist message through commercial channels by “Kicking giants drowned in reason/Breaking old building new.” The highlight of the song is the lead vocal, with Lou Watts imbuing the lyrics with melancholy beauty. Damn, she has a gorgeous voice.

“Love Me”: Here’s a brief excerpt from a solo brainstorming session in which I weighed the pluses and minuses of moving to Ireland:

  • Pluses: Irish humor, pubs, cool weather, nice people, pro-neutrality, my green eyes go with the color scheme, pretty countryside, gay-friendly in the cities, a country of music lovers, I can go to Bloomsday every year, easier to fly to Canada . . .
  • Minuses: Expensive, further from Alicia’s family in Spain, anti-smoking movement, I’ll never be able to disguise my loathing of U2 . . .

Chumbawamba spent no energy whatsoever trying to disguise their loathing of U2’s frontman, essentially describing Bono as a narcissistic, pretentious chameleon desperate for adulation. They’re so hard on the guy that I almost feel sorry for him . . . almost. My favorite line of attack involves trying to please both sides of the political spectrum:

I paid my dues, I sung the blues
I’ve done pain and personal hell
Pass me the phone I got calls to make
This will sell and sell
I’m as Bob Roberts to your Phil Ochs
Talking political
So love me, love me, love me I’m a liberal

Shout-outs to one of my favorite movies and my favorite American folk singer are guaranteed to make me happy.

“Georgina”: The prelude to the song features an edited snippet from the Shangri-Las “Leader of the Pack.” “Q: Is she really going out with him? A: Not anymore!” This will all make sense in a few minutes.

If you haven’t seen the film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, you’ll deeply appreciate Chumbawamba’s condensed version.

In the film, the abused wife (Helen Mirren) of a gangster and restauranteur named Spica (the recently departed Michael Gambon) has an affair with a bookshop owner by the name of Michael. The gangster finds out and has his thugs torture the bookshop owner to death by shoving pages from his books down his throat. The wife discovers her dead lover and makes an unusual request of Boarst, the restaurant’s chef:

Overcome with rage and grief, she begs Boarst to cook Michael’s body, and he eventually complies. Together with all the people that Spica wronged throughout the film, Georgina confronts her husband finally at the restaurant and forces him at gunpoint to eat a mouthful of Michael’s cooked body. Spica obeys, gagging. Georgina then shoots him in the head, calling him a cannibal. (Wikipedia)

Given their penchant for describing ugly truths, I was surprised that Chumbawamba dispensed with the gruesome scene, opting instead for a rather witty retelling of the tale:

Georgina’s cooking supper for her husband
All her friends are coming ’round to see the show
Because the thief she calls a husband won’t be hungry
When he sees what’s on the end of his fork

Georgina isn’t asking any more
And her lover isn’t asking any more
And the cook isn’t asking any more
Since the thief met a bullet on the way to the floor

My surprise dissipated in the closing verse. The gory details are irrelevant; what really matters is the rage of the domestic violence victim:

Georgina’s got a timebomb in her stomach
She knows that any minute now it’s going to blow
With all the pain and the silence that she feeds on
With all the hurt that the bruises can’t show

The music to the song is early 60’s girl group complete with the classic “Angel Baby” chord pattern, making a mockery of the melodrama in teenage breakups in comparison to the ugly reality of domestic violence.

And no, I haven’t seen the movie and have no intention to do so. I want to remember Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, not some cheesy man-eating loser.

“Doh!”: Weather report + folksingers going on about Jesus + Homer Simpson’s tagline. Okay!

Side Two

“Blackpool Rock”: Calliope + manic laughter. Okay!

“This Year’s Thing“: This attack on the herd mentality of pop culture is a bit of a mess, musically and lyrically. I kept waiting for a punchline that never appeared. I did learn something in my research: Kecks are advertised as “mens underwear that can do everything.” I verified that claim by looking at male models strolling around in Kecks on the website and figured out that “everything” includes making your sex partner double up in hysterical laughter when you take your pants off.

“Mouthful of Shit”: Some say the song is directed at politicians while others take a broader view by claiming the song applies to any self-important person who uses bullshit to communicate an air of superiority. The song works either way:

Can’t hear you ’cause your mouth’s full of shit
Can’t hear you ’cause your mouth’s full of shit
Do something about it
Can’t hear you ’cause your mouth’s full of shit

You think you’re god’s gift
You’re a liar
I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire

Dunstan Bruce deserves some kind of award for his rapid-fire rap abilities, though it does make it a bit difficult for listeners to grasp meaning from the barrage. I’d really like to have the chorus on my iPhone so that I can play it whenever I run into someone with a mouthful of shit. That’ll shut ’em up.

“Never Do What You Are Told”: I’m not sure if the quotation from David Bowie’s “Heroes” is a dig or a compliment, but I want to believe it’s a compliment, so that’s that. It’s a pleasant little number except for that weird sound that sounds like a flying saucer engine on the fritz.

“Bad Dog”: Alice Nutter’s justifiable rant compares humans to canines in that both species spend tremendous amounts of energy seeking validation (good dog) and avoiding failure (bad dog). This dynamic is most obvious in work settings where most people learn to kiss ass in order to score promotions and snuff out any perceptions of failure via tried and true CYA techniques—blaming an enemy, blaming IT, or using “puppy eyes” to make the boss feel sorry for them.

The underlying message is: “Has it all come to this? Is life nothing more than seeking acceptance and avoiding punishment?”

And let’s face it—dogs are way better at manipulation than humans.

“Enough Is Enough”: Yes, it is, but I’m completely turned off by the line “Give the fascist man a gunshot,” so I’ll have to give this one a pass.

“Rage”: Anarchy ends with a perfectly lovely vocal by Lou Watts floating over acoustic guitar and synthesized orchestration. The five lines echo some of the sentiments in my favorite Clash song, “Clampdown,” particularly “Anger can be power/D’you know that you can use it?”:

Hear the ghosts of ever after
Yell of anger
Ring of laughter
Don’t go gently into the night
Rage against the dying of the light

I keep hoping and hoping for a way out of our current mess, then I read things like “If the election were held today, Donald Trump would reclaim the presidency.” Outfuckingrageous.


In Anarchy and all their other works, Chumbawamba railed against all the bullshit and tried their best to get people to wake up and realize that the current system of government is working against them, not for them. They should be commended for their efforts, but the people they tried to reach were more interested in protecting what little they have than igniting the fires of social revolution.

On the other hand, I think Chumbawamba is great at identifying the many flaws in the current system, but short on solutions. I like the blow-it-all-up orientation of anarchists but I’d like to hear something more tangible in terms of a replacement. There are simply too many stupid people in the world to banish all sense of order. Government of the people, by the people and for the people is a nice concept but such a system would require sensible, rational human beings capable of collaboration and compromise. That isn’t going to happen in our sharply polarized world.

My needs are pretty simple: I want to live in a place where the factors that create cultural noise—racism, homophobia, political polarization, violence—are scarcely noticeable. Governmental competence would be nice, but I’ll settle for a government that doesn’t create too many problems for the people they’re supposed to serve.

Those are pathetically low expectations, but it’s hard to expect much from a world that refuses to learn from centuries of past mistakes.