Skunk Anansie: Black Traffic
"I think it's good to have a little anxiety about the standard of music you're trying to create, it drives us to know that you're only as good as your last record" impassions iconic Skunk Anansie front-woman Skin. "We have that insecure thing inside about everything we do, always asking yourself if it could be better. Other bands [put out average records] all the time, but we feel that if we put out something without great songs we would not survive." Skin's fighting talk may be a telling example of the evident fire burning in the belly of Skunk Anansie, but rest-assured, their newest efforts are far from average.
'Black Traffic' - the band's sixth full-length release, named after the dark channels that wrap around the world, is the band's third album after they got back together in 2009 after a nine-year hiatus. It's the product of a lengthy and experimental process that saw the quartet rip up their own self-determined rulebook and start again. Written over a year and a half of month long sessions in London and LA ("It was nice to go to LA" notes Skin before jokingly adding, tongue in cheek, that "We had a great studio for a few years that was inspiring but kinda mouldy with black mushrooms and crap, we loved it but did get to the point where we said "We're not a student band; we want air-conditioning, heating and toilet roll!") and recorded with long-time friend of the band the great Chris Sheldon, (Foo Fighters, Biffy Clyro) it's an album that stands alongside the aggressive, forthright output of the Skunk Anansie cannon yet technically ups their game dramatically.
"We recorded this album in a completely different way than we've done before" the singer explains. "We threw down a template, recorded some basic tracks, then deconstructed the whole thing. If you want to experiment and you record it live it limits you because you get too much spillage in the sound so it's hard to mess about and move stuff around, so we recorded everything quite separately so we could sample things and turn them upside down. Our main task was to keep the music vibrant and to not lose any emotion or feeling, but to still be able to go buck wild with our ideas. When you start sampling things it often sounds quite cold, but we wanted something fresh, fat and warm and full of life yet still individual." Lyrically too, 'Black Traffic' finds the group in customarily confrontational form, yet with a new sense of refinement - as Skin notes herself, "Our energy hasn't changed, but we say things more concisely and we've worked out the way to hit harder if we want to. We've honed our force-field, our sword goes straight for the heart"
The force field they've honed here is one that acutely taps in to the current political landscape and connects itself to their own social surroundings. Many regurgitated bands exist in a regressive, nostalgic state, but Skunk Anansie are very much present in the here and now without losing the core of who they are. From 'I Believed In You', which notes the disappointment many feel about their elected politicians ("I think a lot of people feel let down by their leaders. Everybody wants us to vote, but who for? They all fuck up because eventually it becomes more about keeping their positions of power than elevating the position of their country". 'This Is Not A Game' - a hard-hitting comment on how we are all effected by the consequences of the current financial crisis, Skin, Cass, Mark and Ace have written a record that faces their social preoccupations head-on and comes out fighting. "Don't try to mess with me I'll train you like a hound" howls the taut mission statement of 'I Will Break You' - a gutsy declaration of empowerment and in-your-face lust that opens the record with an almighty roar. 'Sad Sad Sad' continues the visceral attack, kicking off on a throbbing, Queens Of The Stone Age-recalling bass-line before erupting into a powerhouse chorus that spits with aggressive energy yet retains a catchy, hook-laden sensibility, whilst 'Our Summer Kills The Sun' shows the group's softer side with Skin's inimitable howl reigned in to a more fragile strength about our delicate earth. 'I Hope You Get To Meet Your Hero', meanwhile, talks of the disappointment of being let down by your own distorted elevated aspirations and ego, whilst the album's closing gambit 'Diving Down' rounds off 'Black Traffic' in sweeping, atmospheric style. Combined, you get a wide-reaching record that hits hard but also, crucially, knows when to step back and take a breath.
Of course, when it comes to their live show, stopping for breath isn't in Skunk Anansie's vocabulary. Famed for their intense delivery and high-octane performance (a recent review in The Independent wrote that "Skin's distinctive voice moves between beautiful, gentle melodies and piercing almost-screams... every song is made even more potent through the passion of each performance"), 'Black Traffic' will surely only add more fuel to the quartet's live fire. Handy, as they'll be hitting the road again for a 20-date European tour, culminating in a home-town show at London's Brixton Academy on December 1st.
'Black Traffic' will also act as an introduction to Boogooyamma - the group's newly established record label. The label will release 'Black Traffic' as its inaugural output, realising a long-held ambition of the band's to maximise creative control and "finally [be] out of the hands of others". It exemplifies Skunk Anansie's progressive approach. Throw them a reunion cash cow and they'll stick two fingers up and get back in the studio. Wail about the music industry waning (let's not forget that when the band first came out, CD sales were in fruitful health), and they'll find a way to make it work for them.
"When you've always been the ‘outsiders', then a little change is just another thing to take in your stride, a lot of greatness is born from our hardest struggles".
"When we first were a band we wanted to fit in with the cool kids and then we very quickly realised the cool kids aren't actually cool at all" Skin smiles. "For us, we've always liked being our own scene; we enjoy not fitting in, that's where we thrive. When you're not part of a clique you end up understanding more of your own soul. We've always stayed true to ourselves and we are what we are. We're just Skunk Anansie." And that'll do nicely.
Black Traffic will be released on September 17th 2012