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LEVELLING THE BLAND [ Another mediocre effort].
on 6 October 2002
Quite frankly, and with respect, I cannot for the life of me understand what the previous reviewers are blathering on about. As a once hardcore Levs fan myself I can only put it down to an insatiable desire for new product and a desperate yearning for this once great band to set our hearts ablaze once more. It smacks of people forcing themselves to hear what really isn't there, the unsatisfactory alternative being having to admit that Mark & Co. are still struggling to regain their muse and their credibility.
Musically, this album is tight as anything. But the lads' musicianship has never been in doubt. Awesome as ever. And as mentioned in another review, there is diversity aplenty, with catchy hooks that lure the listener in and sweep him/her along on waves of mounting excitement. It's a sense of "YES! The boys are back!" A casual listen does indeed give an impression of a return to earlier form. But despite the excellent, catchy musicianship it's only an illusion....
For me, the reason why this album is NOT the crucial comeback that other reviewers suggest is this: the lyrics. What made the "Great" Levellers albums great was not just the music but the combination of words and sound. This new LP is virtually devoid of their old skill for social observation and creative story-telling. Instead what we have is a repetitive and uninspiring lyrical performance. Sure, on some songs you can hear them struggling to re-encapsulate some of that old spirit...and mostly failing. The worst part is that at times when listening I get the sense that the Levs KNOW it too. Some of the lyrics come across as apologist for the very reasons I've described: ""Found what's been bothering me and I'll tell you.....I just can't get back to where I've been." [Falling From The Tree]or "Please don't ask what I do all day. You'll get no reply from me in the nicest way. With heavy heart I can recall the freedom that has flown that is now unknown..." [Wild As Angels]
Of course, it's a question of interpretation, but to me it seems like the band know that they've lost it and are singing for forgiveness and understanding. And of course they have given me so so much pleasure , and of course I forgive them. That's why I've rated the LP 3 rather than 1. We all age and mellow and it would be unfair to expect the Levs to still be the angry folk-punk-rockers of yore.....but the world is still as ugly as ever, if not worse. Their senses may have been blunted by the trappings of success but the issues are still there. I don't know whether they feel guilty, or whether they think it would be hypocritical to sing of the multitude of life's injustices from their hard-earned comfort zone. Whatever, the lyrical dissipation on this LP guarantees it will remain forever in the shadow of their great works of the past.
I recommend this album to existing Levellers fans as a definite improvement over Hello Pig and indeed, musically at least, a welcome return to form. But if you are new to the Levellers I urge -even IMPLORE- you to start with A Weapon Called The Word, Levelling The Land and Levellers [3rd album] and work your way up to this.....perhaps then my review will make some sense.