Sunday, 29 January 2017


"grey Britain"
Year:    2009
Country:    UK
City:   Watford
Label:    Warner
Format:    CD, LP
Tracks:    13
Time:    52 min.
Genre:    rock
Style:            Prog Punk

Punk plus Prog Rock... one currently popular theory claims hard times give birth to great music. The credit crunch, it suggests, might lead to an explosion in socially aware pop of a kind unseen since the Specials and the Jam colonised the charts in the depths of the early 80s recession. It might not happen, not least because the charts of 1979-82 seem the exception rather than the rule, a solitary moment when the top 10 actually reflected Britain's socio-political upheavals. It's not as if the 1990-91 recession caused a glut of politically minded hits, unless everyone missed the insurrectionary crypto-Marxist message behind the Wonderstuff's Size of a Cow. But those anticipating an upsurge in political rock will have hopes pinned on Gallows, an uncompromising Watford hardcore punk quintet who two years ago famously signed a £1m record deal, later described by frontman Frank Carter as "arguably the British music industry's biggest mistake".

Their second album, Grey Britain, certainly sets itself up as an important state-of-the-nation address. A special edition arrives in a box, wrapped in a monochrome union flag, with a DVD of the album's accompanying 30-minute "feature film". The music commences with a minute and a half of sound effects and portentously sawing strings. What Grey Britain most obviously recalls is not the Specials or the Jam, but a notably less exalted musical response to Thatcherism's privations: the punk's-not-dead ramalama of Discharge, the Varukers et al. This adds an extra layer of incredulity to their record deal: just to reiterate, a major label appears to have invested a million quid in a band who sound not unlike Charged GBH, which in purely commercial terms seems only a moderately better idea than nailing the money to the wall of the gents and encouraging people to wipe their bums on it. Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras Read more. Nevertheless, the influence of third-generation Brit punk is plain in Carter's raw-throated, Estuarine howl - the album turns out to be a litany of things he 'ates, including 'oodies, and people who think they're going to 'eaven - the terrace-chant choruses and the wilful absence of anything vaguely resembling a vocal melody. Even the title seems suggestive of the kind of record that came with a crudely photocopied montage on its cover featuring a mushroom cloud, "Maggie" Thatcher sticking two fingers up and the words Pay No More Than 89p. Still, you wonder what Gallows' Mohicaned forebears might have made of Grey Britain's more outré musical flourishes: not so much the sludgy Black Sabbath riffs and Slayer-inspired double bass-drum pounding, but the shifting time-signatures, the complex, needling riffs, not to mention the song split into two "acts". Here's what might have ensued had a prog rock band attempted to keep abreast of changing times by recruiting Wattie Buchan and "Big" John Duncan. It's the Exploited, Lake and Palmer. On one level, the result is as relentlessly horrible as you might suppose a melding of early 80s punk and prog to be. On another, relentlessly horrible is clearly what Gallows are aiming for: it's not like they intended to win over Lady GaGa fans with their scantily clad synth-pop, but ended up making a unremittingly gruesome prog-punk album by mistake. And there's no getting around the sheer power of the music, which grabs you by the throat and pins you against the wall, the better for Carter to scream in your face: the wolves are 'owling, we're all going to 'ell and so on. You may find the experience of being grabbed by the throat, pinned against the wall and screamed at for the best part of an hour bracingly cathartic or a bit wearying, but it's a pretty mouldy fig that denies the livid vigour of Black Eyes or the concluding Crucifucks. Meanwhile, Carter's lyrics veer between end-of-days Grand Guignol - including guest appearances by the Four 'Orsemen of the Apocalypse - and railing against "scum" in a way that occasionally, worryingly, suggests the Book of Revelation rewritten by Richard Littlejohn. He hasn't got any solutions to offer, unless you count his suggestion that everyone commit suicide, which, even given the prevailing economic climate, seems to err on the drastic side. Indeed, judging by his recent contribution to the Guardian's music blog, his grasp of the actual problems might charitably be described as tenuous: he appears to believe Hurricane Katrina caused the credit crunch, a hypothesis even the BBC's rigorous business editor Robert Peston has yet to explore. Advertisement. What he has got is the ability to articulate disgust and despair with such visceral force that it's almost impossible to stop yourself being carried along, almost against your better judgment. You could say the same thing about Grey Britain as a whole (*Review by Alexis ).
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