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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Static On The Airwaves
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VINE VOICEon 28 June 2012
There has been a degree of malcontent amongst some Levelers fans regarding some of their most recent releases,I was never quite sure why, I like to hear a band twist and turn rather than be staid and oh so predictable. But if there was an album that harks back to the halcyon days of the Levellers revelling in the ambiguity of folk, blended blissfully with rock music then "Static on the Airwaves" is the one that nails their folk roots firmly back on their mast.

So they are back with another album, destined to be played at fests, summer parties and the like , in the manner that "Levelling The Land" did all those years ago.
Here we have an album that harks back to the truly folky rock feel of their very early material and it does not disappoint, and all by the original lineup.
They still wear their politics on their sleeves, but the issues have moved on a bit- desolate high streets ( "our forgotten towns") , virtual reality ("second life") war and so forth.

The fiddle comes to the fore on many tracks, most noticeably on "after the hurricane"- I don't think its any co-incidence they chose Sean Lakeman to produce, brother of folk star Seth Lakeman, it oozes folkiness throughout. There is a confidence on this album which was lacking on the slightly metallic feel of their previous album, and is arguably their best effort since `Zeitgeist'.

In an age when the divide between rich and poor is more apparent than ever its great to hear a band shout out loud about it, with enthusiasm tinged with a musical maturity that comes from being together for nearly 25 years.

Criticisms- is any band beyond them ? I think the weakest tracks are the first two, not quite sure what that first track is really all about. But oh boy, that blast of fiddle from the very beginning of "Our forgotten towns" is quite majestic and raspingly biting and continues throughout the remainder of the track, only added to with the very occasional bass note...powerful indeed. Contrast this with the more prosaic and wistfully played "Alone in this Darkness"...gorgeous stuff.

Its also interesting to note there are no photos of the band, just some artwork.....almost eschewing all notions of celebrity...I once heard the band pay themselves the national average wage, do they still ? They attract quite a bit of flack for wearing their politics on their sleevies...well I admire 'em for it. How much was this album , as in compared to an average new release??

This is , overall, a belting album, dare I use the phrase 'return to form'...ok just did, cos this album is. The Levellers have Levelled out again and aint it grand!
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on 29 June 2012
For me this album couldn't be more different from the previous album, Letters From The Underground, where the previous offering had more up tempo rock/punk feel this latest effort concentrates more on the Levellers folk leanings. That in itself is no bad thing and parts of this album reminded me very much of the Oysterband.
There are some real gems on this album We Are All Gunmen is a very strong opening after the intro track. Truth Is is a classic foot stomping effort and I love the nod to Seth Lakeman's Kitty Jay with the superb fiddle driven Our Forgotten Towns.
There are no poor tracks on this album but I feel No Barriers is a bit of a mid-album lull before launching into a very strong second half, again the folk influences of Mutiny, Raft Of Medusa, Traveller could all become Levellers classics and closing track The Recruiting Sergeant is a great end.
I have hesitation in recommending this album to seasoned Levellers listeners and those who may like folk rock in general, especially those who like the Oysterband & The Men They Couldn't Hang.
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on 25 June 2012
I got this album on Saturday and Haven't stopped playing it since !! The Levellers really are doing what they do best on this album.

In terms of comparisons, the sound and production is similar to Letters From the Underground ( which I really liked ), but this album is more realised. Jon Sevink and Charlie Heather are on particularly fine form and the album contains a couple of very good ballads, which is one thing that LFTU seemed to be missing.

So, to take it from the top, the opener is a short intro piece featuring radio waves crackling and leads into We are All Gunmen, a great song with a very solid rhythm section and classic Levs railing at the state of the world.

Next up is Thruth is, a fine Violin driven Folk song with Typical Chadwick sentiments and a great chorus.This is followed by After the Hurricane, a lovely accoustic guitar piece that evokes memories of songs like No Change from the early days. Some excellent Simon banjo picking and a fully realised chorus, tuneful and melodic. This is followed by Our Forgotten towns, a lament to the death of the high street with group vocal chorus all sung over Jons Fiddle.

No Barriers is next with electric guitars, driving drums and a brilliant fiddle melody. This followed by Alone in this Darkness, a lovely heartfelt ballad with lovely guitar, fiddle and a thoughtful vocal.

Raft of the Medusa is next ( for me the highlight of the album ) with a drum driven rhythm and a great sound similar to Pale Rider on LFTU. Then Comes Mutinty, a classic Levs track and could have come off Zeitgeist and has some nice piano work from Matt.

Traveller is next, another ballad with another thoughtful performance from Mark Chadwick. This track would have not been out of place on Mouth to Mouth and again features some melodic keyboards from Matt. Second Life follows an is another toe tapping upbeat folk piece with Jon's Fiddle very much to the fore and Simon picking away in the background, excellent !!

Finally, The recruiting Sargeant, a traditional folk song that the boys have 'Levellerised'. I thought it was great and it has a very Pogues sound to it, very good.

Well, all in all I would say that if you are a Levs fan and you liked Weapon, Levelling the Land,, Zeitgeist and Letters, then you will love this album as it truly is classic Levellers. If you are new to the Levellers, this by no means a bad place to start. Enjoy!!
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on 14 October 2012
Maybe its because of their recent nostalgia tour playing 'Levelling the Land' in its entirity night after night. Maybe its because 'Letters from the Underground' was such a barnstormer, and they didnt want to retread that vibe twice in a row. Whatever the reason, 'Static' sees The Lev's in very restrained form.

The musicianship is excellent, the production solid, but there are no real 'moments' on this album. Nothing that grabs and shakes you. It just meanders along at an amiable pace, and invites you to amble along with it.

A classic example is track 5- 'Our Forgotten Towns'. It starts with some absolutely killer violin work, and you fully expect that after a minute or so, this will open into layers of guitar and a chorus that you will be humming on your deathbed. Only it doesnt. It merely maintains its course, and then fizzles out just before outstaying its welcome.

Throughout the album the emphasis is very firmly on the folk aspect of their music, and even the few moments where they do bring the rock/punk back in (We are all Gunmen for example), it never really snarls or gets the feet tapping.

I have no qualms in saying that I find the band at their best when the music makes you feel like drinking too much cider and knocking a coppers helmet off his head for a laugh.

On this album, it makes you feel like those days have just left your present to be consigned to your past.

I dont ever want to grow up, but sadly, it seems the band may be doing so.
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on 26 June 2012
Sorry to break the run of five stars, but although this album is decent enough, with excellent production, a variety of material and plenty of prominent fiddle, the tunes often failed to take hold of me and were, in general, not terribly memorable. One exception to this is the final track - the Recruiting Sargent - which I found so different in style to what came before it ( and with a very explicit `political` message too ) that the end of the album `jarred`.

All reviews are subjective, and I must declare my personal preferance for higher energy Levellers songs, which are sadly absent from this album. That is why I so enjoyed their previous effort `Letters`, which grabbed hold of me on my first listening, and which I hold to be easily their best effort since their early `classic` albums.

This certainly is not a `bum` album,as I would hold `Truth and Lies` to be, and I can well understand why those of a different musical disposition to me might really enjoy it and award it more than three stars. However, for this reviewer it was rather bland and lacking in energy.
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on 20 September 2012
Apart from a few lazy reviews in the media that have gone down the usual "twee, fiddly, folk, dog-on-a-string" route that the trendies have been peddling for the last 20 years, the latest album from the Levellers has been pretty well-received. Having given it a good few months to sink in, I'm happy to report that it was well-received by me too!

Like many people, the Levellers were the soundtrack to my teenage years and taught me as much about protest and alternative lifestyles as any number of the punk rock bands I used to listen to. What set the Levellers apart is the mixture of their angry punk attitude that stamps all over the smug, self-consciously old-fashioned air that permeates much of the folk scene combined with a gentleness and wistfulness in their material that made them more human and relatable than many heavier rock acts.

Static on the Airwaves seems to have captured more of this winning formula than any of their albums since, say, Mouth to Mouth.

One of the strongest points of the album is the variety. Unlike their last album, Static on the Airwaves is happy to vary the tempo and show that the Levellers can turn their hand to slow songs with just as much skill as the up tempo foot-stompers. We Are All Gunmen is a strange, dub-like track held together by a massive chorus; Truth Is is a classic Levellers barn-stormer that'll be opening or closing shows for years to come; After The Hurricaine is a mid-tempo lament with a couple of unexpected chord progressions; Mutiny and Raft of the Medusa make a fine pair of Men They Couldn't Hang style historical rock ballads, while Alone is This Darkness is a lovely, low-key acoustic song. The album closes with an instant fan-favourite in The Recruiting Sergeant; a gruff shanty done in a Pogues-ish folk style. Each track has a distinctive sound that keeps the album interesting.

Another strength of the band has always been the musicianship. A very tight rhythm section with Charlie Heather's insistant drumming and Jeremy Cunningham's funky bass backs up a strong melody from Jon Sevink's violin, while Simon Friend swiches between various instruments and Mark Chadwick holds it together on the guitar. This remains equally true on this album. Jon uses the violin wisely, playing subtle accompaniment to the quieter songs or a strong lead melody when needed. The contrast between vocalists in Mark's tuneful singing and Simon's gravelly snarl also keeps the songs interesting as they switch up vocalists every few tracks.

There are few weaknesses on Static on the Airwaves. I'm not a big fan of Sean Lakeman's sound engineering, which gives a slightly thin sound to songs that should be big and imposing. A couple of tracks, as you find on most albums, are clearly fillers, such as Second Life, and aren't as strong as the rest. There's also the unfortunate but undisputable fact that Mark just can't sing as well as he could as a younger man. He's much better here than he has been in years, but never reaches the power and quality that he had on Zeitgeist or Levelling the Land.

On the whole, though, this is a really good album. The songs are interesting and engaging. There's a real feeling of a coherent album with strong material and a band with the confidence that they can play many styles of song with equal skill. If you've got the Levellers' first four albums, this one should probably be your next purchase and if it's your first buy, it's a pretty good one to try out.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 August 2012
(Confession: I was born in the middle of the last century, so I am an old prog rock fan. That's my excuse...)

This is a brilliant Levellers Album - wonderful musicianship, great songs, clear clean production.

It has the elegance of their "pop" album (Mouth to Mouth), and yet the underlying crunch of their magnificent (if politically furious) earlier albums like Levelling The Land or A Weapon Called The Word.

From a musical point of view we have some glorious bass-lines (of the quality of the Airplane's Jack Cassidy) from the wildly haired Jeremy [who I last saw in concert in Reading, left alone on stage to start off the fabulously complex bass line of "Too Real"], and an inspired Jon playing some glorious fiddle lines (one track is JUST fiddle and voice), some delicate thoughtful drumming from Charlie - and great singing and guitaring from Mark and Simon. Not to forget some great keyboards fills from the (relatively) new Matt.

Great songs, great playing, great album.
My daughter's boyfriend was so impressed hearing it over dinner that he went out and bought it...
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on 3 January 2017
After 2008's "Letters from the Underground" it was clear that the Levellers were back, and that they meant business. 2012's "Static on the Airwaves" takes a less rocky approach but still delivers on quality lyrics, catchy melodies and the all important fusion of rock and folk. From the opening two tracks ("Static on the Airwaves" and "We Are All Gunmen") it's clear that this isn't going to be like any other Levellers album that's come before; and that's a good thing as after 20+ years of making records, the Levellers have always been able to surprise their fans. It's nice to see some more traditional folk rear its head in the guise of "The Recruiting Sargeant" and "Raft of the Medusa", although there are other songs which really steal the show; "After the Hurricane" and "Mutiny" being two that stand out for me.
All in all, "Static on the Airwaves" is a worthy entry into the top five Levellers albums, and (I hope) a sign of what is still to come from arguably the best folk rock back in the UK.
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on 10 August 2015
Truth is, after the exciting hurricane of 'Letters from the Underground' this offering by the Levellers is more of a gentle and pleasant breeze. Certainly, that's how it starts, but there is a mixture of tracks on here, from the over-produced Radio 2 - friendly type, such as 'We are all Gunmen', to the rousing Poguesish Levs of 'The Recruiting Sergeant'. It's an uneven album, with some good tracks and some not so good ones, but it is a grower. My favourite track is 'Traveller', which is a beautiful, rather melancholy but hopeful song enhanced by some female backing vocals. Not the best Levellers album, but it's still pretty good.
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on 1 August 2012
Even as a huge fan of the Levellers, it would be churlish to deny that they've struggled to reach the heady heights that their earlier albums reached. Whilst I've enjoyed all their releases in the intervening period, more recent offerings have struggled to match the energy, vibrancy, relevancy and downright footstomping unforgetability of A Weapon Called The Word,Levelling The Land (Remastered) and even Zeitgeist.

The release of Letters from the Underground in 2008 was a definite elevation of their intervening albums, but with Static on the Airwaves the lads have come up with a genuine contender for the material they were releasing twenty odd years ago - and seem to have united both fans and media alike, it's not very often that the Levs get a fair crack of the whip from the music press - but this time both defensive loyal fans and journalists alike have concurred that this is a fantastic recording by a band who still have something relevant to say and can do so surrounded by fantastic music.

From the dystopian Static On The Airwaves it kicks straight into soon-to-be-released single 'We Are All Gunmen' - an epic manifesto for how the world could be, before kicking into the first single 'Truth Is' - a tremendously catchy anthemic reminder of the disparity between the different strata of society. 'After The Hurricane' reels you back in to a calmer state before the harrowing violins jar you into a journey around 'Our Forgotten Towns'. 'No Barriers' lifts the mood again before a tender acoustic track 'Alone In This Darkness' which leads into my favourite bit of the album...

'Raft Of The Medusa' is an almost sea-shanty-esque romp which tells the what turns out to be harrowing tale of the crew of the grounded French frigate The Medusa who were abandoned by their officers, 147 of them, on a crudely constructed raft that was supposed to be being towed by the boats reserved for those in command. This leads into the highlight of the album for me, 'Mutiny' tells the story of Jesse Robert Short, a veteran of frontline action in the First World War, he was sent to Étaples - a notorious training camp - where he was executed for his supposed part in a mutiny their by soldiers due to mistreatment by the leaders there.

We then trip through 'Traveller' - perhaps, if there is such a thing, the weakest moment on the album (maybe down to track ordering as much as anything) into the lively 'Second Life' a damning indictment into aspects of modern life before rounding off with the ludicrously catchy 'The Recruiting Sergeant' - a collaboration with Divokej Bill, and feels like a bunch of musicians having a great laugh whilst delivering a tremendous re-rendering of this classic song for more modern times.

A great album for fans of the Levellers, or perhaps those who had written the band off or have never considered them before.
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