UK Decay: New Hope For the Dead – album review
UK Decay – New Hope For the Dead (UK Decay label)
Out 15th April 2013
The long awaited return of UK Decay is a masterful comment on current social conflict and a heavily charged antidote to apathy. Dave Jennings reviews it in depth below.
It’s 30 years since UK Decay last recorded; ‘Rising From the Dread’ followed up their only previous album, ‘For Madmen Only’. They were a punk band; principled, clever and defiant, they stood for all the right things and helped to spread a value system that remains with many to this day. They are still very much a punk band and ‘New Hope for the Dead’ is destined to be one of the defining albums of 2013.
With one crashing blow, UK Decay have rewritten the rules of engagement for supposed ‘comeback’ albums and redefined the term ‘Punk’ for the modern age. Make no mistake about it, this is no sentimental rehash of a sound from over 30 years ago, this is a seismic explosion of anger unleashed in a sound that emanates from both Heaven and Hell depending on your current stand-point.
The familiar vocals of Abbo cut through the opening onslaught of “Shake ‘em Up (Holy Ghost)”, which is a plea for celestial super-beings of any religious persuasion to come down and give our earthly governments a good old fashioned kick up the arse for the mess created. This first track is the benchmark for the rest of the album which sees a no compromise attack on the values and attitudes of what our society has become since UK Decay last recorded.
This continues with the searing “Heavy Metal Jews” which again demonstrates the power and versatility of Steve Spon, one of the unsung guitar greats of the punk movement. The premise of this song, “Anti-Semitism’s cool now/It’s a media decree” rams home the simple yet vital message that you can’t discriminate against people just because of the actions of their government and as the song ends we hear the hauntingly memorable sound of a dislocated celestial choir.
UK Decay have never sounded better, with Ed Branch’s bass power perfectly complemented by the invigorating drumming of Raymondo, providing the tightest rhythm platform for the unique sound of Spon’s guitar and biting intensity of Abbo’s vocals. The production is simply outstanding because the band decided to approach one of the world’s greatest producers, the Dark Lord himself, Chris Tsangarides, who brings his master craftsman finesse to the sound. He has captured the sound of a band at the top of their game with such precision you could be sat at the mixing console with him. It’s a superb job.
“Next Generation” documents one of the driving reasons behind the band deciding to record again; the fire that burned inside so many of the punk generation may be dimmed and there may be an element of apathy among their younger successors who are spurning opportunities to campaign for change. “Killer” is a suitable choice to follow as it delivers a savage denunciation of US foreign policy strategies with what Mick Mercer has recently described as Abbo’s “leisurely droll vocal sarcasm”.
“This City is a Cage” is an outstanding track on what is an outstanding album. The sound perfectly conjures the menace and heat of ‘this city’ which is viciously allegorical of our fractured society and once heard will stay with you for an uncomfortably long time; “The nurses starved to get a basic pay/The doctors became bankers/The carers in the communities were killed in a day/The street cleaners died of an urban decay”. After this we are probably due the ‘light relief’ of “Woman with a Black Heart”, a solemn warning never to sleep with anyone crazier than yourself, which is driven by a funky rhythm and an irresistible bass line from the four stringed maestro Ed Branch.
Written in 2009, “Revolutionary Love Song” is a chilling predictor of the riots that tore through British cities in 2011. It is also further evidence of the enduring ability of UK Decay to encapsulate the strife and disempowerment felt by many with songs of haunting melody and power. Referencing the old blues song “Mr. Crump Don’t Like It”, we hear that “And if the people don’t like it, it just might happen here” as Abbo evokes an urban powder keg that is ready to explode. “I’m a resistor because I exist” is the echoing message of the rap-like “Shout”, whilst “Falling through History” questions why we feel obliged to celebrate and remember dictators and murderers whilst forgetting their victims.
‘New Hope for the Dead’ ends with two personal songs that deal with issues of survival against the challenges of life. “I Feel Good”, with lines like “lucky for me you can’t fall off the floor” and “it’s easier to lie than be misunderstood”, plumb the depths before the uplifting chorus carries us through a stomping triumph. Again, the vision of Spon, rhythm section of Ed and Ray, and Abbo’s piercing vocals, combine with the highest quality production to deliver a classic song of survival many will identify with. The album closes with Abbo ranting against the frustrations of life, offering thanks to ‘drink’ for helping to cope and offering a well-deserved toast to the Dark Lord.
The stunning album artwork is designed by Italian artist Franko B and will be a world first of a new printing technique on a limited number of both the CD and Vinyl cover artwork. It involves a 3D “oil painting varnish” effect that will give a real textured feel to the sleeve and replicate Franko B’s striking work. This, along with the production of a maestro, ensures that songs of real power and meaning are presented in a breath-taking package.
Like the Great War soldiers of ‘J’Accuse’, who rise from their graves to challenge survivors as to whether they are worthy of the sacrifice made, UK Decay have stormed back to hold all of us who cherish punk’s legacy to account. The quality and passion of this album will force every listener to pause and reflect before wanting to hear more. Funded via the Pledge website, the campaign must start now to enable the band to record again.
‘New Hope for the Dead’ is released on April 15th 2013 and UK Decay will be playing live to celebrate Record Store Day at the Rough Trade West Stage, Talbot Road, Ladbroke Grove, London on Saturday 20th April at 2.30pm.
UK Decay can be followed on their Facebook page or on their official website here.
All words by Dave Jennings. More work by Dave Jennings on Louder Than War can be found here.