Sunday, August 20, 2017

Duff Review: Smiley and the Underclass "Rebels Out There"

CD/LP/digital download
Bredda Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

I knew I probably was going to like Smiley and the Underclass' LP when my mail ordered copy arrived in NYC from the UK with the following request on the back of the mailer: "Dear Mailman, if you pass Trump Tower, stick a middle finger up for me." (Hopefully, he or she complied!)

London's Smiley and the Underclass occupy the same fantastic punk 'n' reggae space as The Clash, The Ruts, and Citizen Fish--and are equally as outspoken in the face of injustice as those aforementioned bands. Their fiercely good debut album Rebels Out There (engineered by Nick Manasseh) is filled with indelible songs of outrage and lament over our thoroughly screwed up world--societal breakdown ("Babylon is Spiraling Out of Control") and environmental apocalypse ("Another Kind of Human") loom on the horizon throughout the course of these songs--but the band often posits that the solutions to these myriad issues will only come about if the listener becomes involved and takes action. However bad it is out there, it's not hopeless (yet).

Indeed, on the anti-conformist title track, Smiley repeatedly wails "Are there any rebels out there?" and then urges the listener, "Don't pay your mortgage, don't pay your tax/Take your money out of their banks/Know your neighbours, secret town halls/People means us, politics means wars/Real rebels grow food, don't eat that shit/from a pale faced clown who wants to kill off the kids/Mother nature's dying while we're running this race/Can we look our grandkids in the face?" Likewise, in the brilliant "Want Stuff/Make Stuff," Smiley and the Underclass want to shake you out of apathy/complacency to actively lead your life, no matter what your station or circumstance: "We're living and swimming within a time that's getting harder/No money, austerity, predatory while the rich hide in the larder/But I love ya, I love ya, no matter where you're heads at today/So I say/Want stuff? Make stuff/Want love? Make love/Want truth? Make truth in the booth..." (presumably both the voting and recording booths). And there's a great environmental plea wrapped within ("So, all I really got to say in case the Earth should pass away/Please be kind and use your mind and plant a zillion trees a day!"). Do be sure to check out all of their song lyrics on their Bandcamp page (they're not included with the LP).

Other standout tracks include "It's All England" (featuring Vin Gordon on trombone), which is about feeling and being disenfranchised in your own, completely familiar land ("When I think of England I don't think of black cabs and cops/I think of chain links and locks/Dirty looks and chicken shops, tower blocks/and a wrap of weed in my socks"); the skabilly "Machiavelli Blues" (what you get when you live in a society that values duplicity and self-interest above all else); the Jim Morrison referencing "No-One's Getting Out," a song from the perspective of life itself (as if it were a character in "The Seventh Seal"); their powerful cover of Johnny Osbourne's "Truth and Rights"; and the gleeful, you-have-to-sing-along anthem of empowerment and rebellion, "Jump the Barrier."

People looking for potent protest music for the Trump/May era need look no further than Smiley and the Underclass' dynamite Rebels Out There.

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