Roughly 39 years ago some bored teenagers in Surrey started making music together. They became The Members. Their first new album in 8 years was released recently. What’s this new album like? Suzanne Kelly reviews.
The punk anthem ‘Sound of the Suburbs’ summed up suburbia in the seventies. ‘Working Girl’ is a USA poppy but punk cult classic. ‘Chelsea Nightclub’ was a fun, laddish, cheery youthful drinking song with a twist of sarcasm. But time’s moved on, and we’re preparing to celebrate 40 years since punk started. What would the new record ‘One Law’ be like?
Am happy to say The Members have come up with a solid, varied, enjoyable studio album which is a worthy addition to their body of work. They’ve mixed elements of their own sound while time travelling through the ’50s to the present, while pounding on the door of the future of punk as well.
There are tracks that evoke 1960s guitar bands (the sound of the Kinks comes through loud and clear; sometimes very hauntingly). There are moments when they’re channelling surf music; then the next track is reggae.
It’s a punk album from punk stalwarts – and it’s also an evolutionary step for the band – possibly for the future of a kind of punk as well. There’s something about the overall feeling of ‘One Law’ which is some kind of new grown-up punk – but not too grown up thankfully.
It must be great to sing / play / write / be cute – but however talented or good looking you are, if you’ve nothing better to say than ‘Bitch better have my money’ or ‘There ain’t no party like an S Club party,’ what’s the point? The Members have quite a lot to say. People might have different takes on what punk is/should be – but many hold that if it’s not got anything to say about the messed up state of affairs we’re in, it’s not really punk. If you think that way, this album should find its way into your collection.
The current line up is JC Carroll (a host of instruments and vocals), Nigel Bennett (guitars and vocals), Nick Cash (drums) and Chris Payne (bass, vocals). JC Carroll wrote or co-wrote all the tracks (there’s 15 on One Law), and he’s certainly not short of social critique or things worth saying. ‘Emotional Triggers’ starts the album – it also has a great video that goes with it – find it here. If you’ve never considered how cynically we’re all being psychologically played by the media/advertising/marketing powers that be, or if you’re angered/pissed off/a bit sad when you hear The Ramones used to sell you something, or David Bowie (RIP)’s ‘Changes’ used to make you want to buy a car, Carroll’s got it covered. The song starts with a nostalgic description of the music he grew up with, and takes us to where we are today: “The songs that meant so much to me are adverts on the tv… we’re social networking; on YouTube we’re twerking; our iPhone are beeping, we’re constantly tweeting… emotional triggers are making us bitches.”
‘Chelsea Aggro’ is a punk song with guitar, harmony, and a beat that evokes the early 1960s. Nigel Bennett’s guitar work might well make you want to do the twist. Or something. It’s got the kind of laddish London feeling that ‘Chelsea Nightclub’ had – just not in a cheery way. A cracking track.
For a nice piece of political commentary, ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ delivers a nice attack on the powers that be with vocals that are restrained but clearly quietly angry. I thought of the song when ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ was a newspaper headline this week.
‘Apathy in the UK Part 1’ is just as apt an anthem for 2016 as ‘Sound of the Suburbs’ was in its time. Again more great guitar work from Bennett.
Tension and stress are given a darkly humours treatment in ‘Incident at Surbiton’, a tale of rat-racing commuter 9-5 stress ending in tragedy: “I never thought my life would be like this.. I worked hard for my GCSE… don’t push me ‘cause I’m way too close to the edge.”
“It really is a shame to live your life like a machine.” You can easily picture the scene at the train station Carroll’s painted. Nice syncopation too.
A further video is out for ‘Working The Night Shift’ which comically uses the dark world of voodoo and its mystical figure Baron Samedi. Carroll’s accordion playing adds atmosphere to the piece – it’s a most unusual fusion of calypso/reggae/ and maybe due to the accordion – there’s something Eastern European.. something Tiger Lillies – something different going on.
The Members have things worth saying which they get over in a straightforward way, using great music, and drawing on their – and our – emotional triggers. There was one complaint on Facebook about it, amid a large group of compliments from fans. Someone fumed that ‘…they hate it when punk bands take years to put out an album.’ A bizarre criticism, especially for a band that’s been touring, exploring many avenues and individual projects all this time, and for a band that still managed to play when Bennett was up to his thigh in a leg cast with a nasty, nasty break not that long ago. If there is a punk work ethic somewhere that albums have to come out frequently, it’s a stupid rule. You can’t dictate when inspiration will find you, or write on a schedule. This is a great album for 2016. It’s a thinking-person’s diverse collection of evocative and thought-provoking track to be enjoyed.
On a personal note
This little review, brief as it is, has taken ages to get out. It’s not that I wasn’t listening to it and enjoying it. It’s one thing writing about straightforward news stories, but I find it a bit hard to write a critique of people who are professional writers. Some music critique makes me cringe. A local reporter just wrote ‘rock idols wowing fans’ ‘stomping’ and clapping, having ‘witnessed a masterclass in musical manipulation…’ Other reviewers delve into detail that only the band’s guitar tech would know (but likely wouldn’t appreciate), and still others review with a view to doing as much name-dropping and sophistry as possible. I’m trying to avoid the pitfalls. I wonder whether I am.
Aside from how I feel about writing reviews, there were other things going on. First, I got bogged down in a story I was working on that took over my life completely for a month, which still hasn’t died down yet. The ‘One Law’ CD I bought went missing. My iPod also disappeared, leaving me without the album for a bit. I had two talks with JC and Nigel, and my meticulous notes wound up in a watery pulp when my roof flooded (again). Then I decided I’d wait until The Members played a show at Aylesbury to hear the new work live (NB – was a great line-up – Kirk Brandon acoustic, The Members, and Big Country). However, the sets that night were short, and not much of the new material was aired. A million and one other things got in the way of getting this simple review out as well, not least the passing away of David Guthrie, an Aberdeen Voice founder. He was a musician who very much cared about where our insanely greedy government is taking us and social ills. He’d have loved ‘One Law’. So, apologies for the late running of this service. It’s not nearly as worth waiting for as this album was I know, but there you go. The bottom line – you ought to get this and you ought to go see them. SK PS – it’s on orange vinyl too.