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Chumbawamba misses mark with newest album

Chris McGrady | Thursday, January 18, 2007

When examining the long list of 1990s era one-hit wonders, the name Chumbawamba almost always finds its way into the discussion. After all, the band’s historically catchy party-pop hit “Tubthumping” still reminds most of us of middle school dances.

Perhaps dissatisfied with its “one hit then quit” status, Chumbawamba is making another run at the stop. This time, however, the band is ditching the electronic aids for an acoustic act.

“A Singsong and a Scrap” is the name of Chumbawamba’s latest release, a brand new take on the group’s sound. What most people do not know is that the band is not really just a one-hit wonder, but has actually enjoyed moderate success (with a few very large successes) since its formation in 1984.

The band formed in Leeds, England with an extremely political point of view. Considered anarchists, group members often wrote songs bashing the political goals of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and even held benefit concerts to protest her position in office. It was not long after this that Chumbawamba’s anti-government status elevated, and the group became the target of police raids.

However, the average listener would be surprised to hear this after taking in the soft sounds of “A Singsong and a Scrap.”

The new album, although still steeped with political messages, is more likely to lull the listener to sleep rather than inspire any revolutionary spirits to take arms and storm parliament.

The album opens with “Laughter in a Time of War,” a harmonic folk-inspired song that uses melodic guitar-picking to produce a feel-good sound. The lyrics, however, hint at a darker message as the band points out the irony in the general attitude towards war.

“Walking into Battle with the Lord” is the fifth track on the CD and brings religious shading to the predominantly political album. The song is mostly a cappella, and the band does an impressive job in this context. The lyrics are poignant and moving, and it is at this point that the listener begins to wonder if this is the same group behind “Tubthumping,”

“Fade Away” is another light-hearted piece. The song will draw comparisons to some of the happy-go-lucky sounds of folk singers from the past, such as Simon and Garfunkel. But it is this déjà vu that causes the downfall of the album – where is the originality?

The album is surprisingly well thought-out and performed. A far cry from the “expected” Chumbawamba, the band has shown a musical diversity that would generally be unaffiliated with a group reputed to be a one-hit wonder. However, the music from the album is largely homogeneous and lacks anything new and refreshing to set itself apart from other groups that pioneered the folk genre. The lyrics and writing do take Chumbawamba to a slightly higher level, but overall the actual melodies do not help the album rise above mediocrity.

Maybe Chumbawamba meant to subdue its music in order to further spread its political message, but unfortunately, suppressing the sound makes for a very bland album.