Life Worth Living
Acid Jazz Records
CD/Vinyl/DL all platforms
Watford trio The Spitfires follow up 2018’s Year Zero with a highly accomplished, emotive and diverse new album which is so multi-layered, that with each listen, you find something new in each track. It’s a strong album. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s the best yet by a long way and already easily my favourite of 2020 and there’s not a weak link here at all.
Using keyboards (Stuart ‘Little’ Gabriel) and trombones in addition to the usual tightness of the three key members’ vocals and guitars (Billy Sullivan), bass (Sam Long) and drums (Matt Johnson), the result is extraordinary; a much broader range of styles is on display, and it’s a bold and brilliant exploration into new musical arrangements, sounds and loops. With enough diversity to appeal to a wider audience without losing their trademark sound, attitude and ethos, so not to alienate the hard-core fans, ‘Life Worth Living’ is all at once brilliantly accomplished and edgy, fresh and familiar, intense and uplifting.
Each track is a gift, the result a celebratory feast; a sumptuous stew of ska and soul, reggae and melancholic post-punk, with a dash of dancehall disco. If this blend sounds all a little bizarre for the delicate taste buds, all-too familiar with the tried-and-tested, well, I urge you to suspend all caution and sample the delicious flavours here…
It kicks off with a terrific opener Start All Over Again which is in-yer-face upbeat and almost bouncy, with anthemic choruses and great little brass loops, whilst, like (Just Won’t) Keep Me Down, this is the recognised and loved Spitfires sound at its very best. Similarly, Kings and Queens opens with a killer skank, and accompanied with great guitar riffs, it’s a real earworm of a track; it stubbornly lodges firm and won’t let go. Another one with a big, big sound, I can see this being a single.
It Can’t Be Done is mellower, more laid-back, but with a distinct experimentation with brass, bleeps and synths, these little quirks really work with the trademark fuzzy guitars and clear, strong vocals. If title track is a ska-seasoned romper, leaning heavily on the brass section, then Tear This Place Right Down! is a killer tune, which wouldn’t be out of place in a dancehall. A funk-adelic, disco-tinged delight, this track is a whirlwind of activity, from the way the guitars and trombones blend into a unique mix, yet with retro cool, to the higher octave backing vocals adding another layer to Billy’s lead, it’s a dancefloor classic already. So different from anything they’ve done before, but they pull it off with real credibility – this is pure genius.
Then there are numbers such as the haunting, wistful How Could I Lie to You?, which really shows off the range of Billy’s vocals at their most melancholic. Coupled with the gently rolling guitar licks and keys, the added brass in the chorus adds an eerie, almost otherworldly quality. Significantly, for this track’s influence, it reads like ‘The Last Post’. Have It Your Way, then is a wry observation of a twisted relationship, with its razor-sharp lyrics set to a deceptively gentle undertone – until the trombones roar and the guitars crash and clash that is!
Finally, Make It Through Each Day provides a comme il faut finale. A clever, epic track which starts acoustically with hauntingly tender keys and a true, clear vocal pitch, rolling into a lullaby. But after a long, long pause it changes tempo completely, relaunching with punchy guitars and crashing drums – a determined, ass-kicking, get-up-after-falling-down belter. Simply brilliant – and very much a fitting end to this album which is surely the most relevant soundtrack yet of the strange times and climes of 2020. Like we’ve all been having to do in Lockdownland,, ’Life Worth Living’ is hammering this home, celebrating the diverse and the familiar, raging and empathising with the shit but celebrating the simple joy of discovery, of forging new paths and making your mark; on embarking upon new ways of living life – and making music.
Simply, this gem of an album is a step up to a raised platform, to a higher plane even. And with each listen, you will keep finding joyous little idiosyncrasies in the arrangements and feeling an unexpected jolt of excitement or a sudden shiver down your spine. If there is any justice left in this world, ‘Life Worth Living’ should propel The Spitfires way, way into the celestial sphere. And let’s face it, given the current global crises, that may not be a bad thing!
Words by Rachel Velouria Rose