Skimmer: Hang About (Japanese edition) – (Waterslide Records).
Release expected October 2013
A new album from Birmingham pop punks Skimmer proves to be a mixed bag. Paul Spicer sorts the wheat from the chaff.
So, Birmingham based four-piece Skimmer are 20 years old this year, and to mark the occasion they release a new studio album Hang About. It has been a long time coming – given their longevity their output is relatively modest; three albums, one compilation and a smattering of singles. Formed in 1993 they found early success with the catchy Better Than Being Alone (a Metal Hammer single of the week no less), Samantha’s Favourite, and Happy. However, despite bags of early promise, it is probably fair to say that they have not quite lived up to the expectation that was placed upon them. The band have also had more than their fair share of tragedy too. The untimely death of original drummer Andy Dickinson in 2004 forced the band into a lengthy hiatus, and had people wondering if they would continue. Remarkably however, they did return and after a number of gigs across the globe, released the albums I’ll Tell You What in 2007 and Self Harmony in 2008. Sometimes criticised for their reliance on the California skater-punk sound of bands such as Blink 182 and The Descendents Skimmer have not really changed over the years, unashamedly dependent on a style that most ‘serious’ music fans tend to dismiss out of hand.
The first thing that immediately jumps out upon listening to Hang About is the sound. Previous albums were in the opinions of many, ‘a bit light’. The type of music that Skimmer pin their flag to demands production which fizzes with the energy of a live gig, but allows the listener to experience everything that is being thrust at them. This was a compromise that previous producer Nigel Clark (of Dodgy Fame), evidently had problems with. Although the tunes did not lack intensity, they were just a bit flat. Hang About addresses this issue fairly well. Most of the album was recorded at Zoo Studios and engineered by Carl Harris who, to his credit, has managed to make Skimmer sound better. However, there are a couple of minor issues with the couple of tracks recorded elsewhere. The sound difference of these songs, Sophie Trophy Girlfriend and Race To The Sun, is noticeable and, when compared to the rest of the album, sound a bit messy. The former track is good enough to get away with it, but the latter is not so and only serves to magnify the problem.
Song-wise, Hang About is definitely an up and down listening experience. There are numerous high points; Four Eyes, Smile and Wave Goodbye, Stress Bomb, Injury Prone and, the highlight of the album, Can Of Bees are punchy, sharp and come careering out of your speakers like some kind of crazed American surf-punk bungee-jumper. It also has to be said that the vocal harmonies, which have always sounded good on Skimmer albums, are present in all their tuneful glory. However, all is not perfect and as good as these songs are, there are others which just don’t cut it. Common Ground, Keraouc and Modern Etiquette are prime examples and, in comparison to what else is on offer, feel so out of place. It comes as somewhat of a surprise that they made it onto the album at all. At 17 tracks long the omission of some of the more insipid tunes could have been carried out with no problem. There are also two cover versions present, Crocodile God’s Marmalade and Chopper’s One More Glam Day. Again, these are in keeping with the ‘high and low’ feeling of the rest of the album. Marmalade is a great version of the Mark Murphy penned track, whereas One More Glam Day just doesn’t cut it and adds nothing to the album as a whole. It feels as if Skimmer have tried to cram as much as possible into a single body of work, so much so that everything gets a bit heavy, cumbersome, and occasionally a bit boring. The experience of listening to Hang About is one which will either have your feet-tapping, or you fingers reaching for the ‘skip-track’ button. There is no middle ground here.
It will be interesting to see how well this albums fares once it is released. Skimmer pretty much create to their formula and end up sounding, well … like Skimmer. Of course it is admirable to stick to what you believe in, but it is also important to keep things fresh, and to achieve this there really needs to be an element of experimentation. It is difficult because as we know, change can often ruin a band, but Skimmer are in a fortunate position; they have a good live reputation, a modest but solid (and loyal), fanbase, a new album and gigs in the pipeline, they can afford a little meddling. It would be interesting to see what would happen if, for the sake of variety, they could finally edge away from their somewhat overbearing influences. Music has moved on since they made their debut; the bands that helped to shape Skimmer’s sound have either split, or refined their style. It would be nice to think that in the case of the latter, they could try to do the same.
Despite the album’s flaws, and even after all of the above grumbling, all is certainly not lost and the positives that shine through like the California sun. If surfy-skater-pop-punk is your thing, then Hang About is an album that will not leave you disappointed. As highlighted earlier there is nothing new here, it is pretty generic, and everything that we have come to expect from the band. The songs fall into the category or either great or mediocre and yes, a couple of them sound a bit ropey, but yet after all this, it is thoroughly enjoyable. Nothing hangs, the guitars sound powerful and spiky, and lead singer Kevin Powell winds his way through the singing duties in his unique style. The songs (the good ones at least), are fantastic; free of pretence, with melodies that will bury their way into your subconscious and have you humming them long after you have stopped listening.
Skimmer work hard; extensive live performances across the globe have seen them gain a devoted following who will no doubt enjoy this new album. Hang About is not going to change the world, but if you are looking for a way to cope with the cold dark winter days ahead, you could do much worse. Pop in the CD, close your eyes and imagine you are on the West Coast … now, where’s my skateboard …
I’ll Tell You What! (2007)
Smitten (The Complete Recordings 1993 -1999) (2007)
Self Harmony (2008)
Hang About (2013)
Better Than Being Alone (1994)
Samantha’s Favourite (1995)
Bored Again (1996)
All I Know Is Wrong (1996)
Navel & Skimmer – UK Tour Split 7″ (1998)
Stress Bomb (2013)
All words by Paul Spicer.