Review Summary: Debut from shaved head 6 foot something black woman-led band is even, has a good strike rate and arguably contains one of the catchiest & under-rated rock songs of the 90's!
Skunk Anansie could have Jimi Hendrix, George Bush & the pope as backing musicians and I still do not think it would take the attention away from lead singer Skin (Deborah Dyer). I mean, is there anything more rock than having a 6 foot something black woman with a shaved head screaming at you? More often than not, what is being screamed (or sung) in your direction on the British band's debut release is controversial and/or political. So much so that American shock jock Howard Stern became a fan of theirs and claimed they would break out huge upon hearing 1st single and album opener 'Selling Jesus'.
Riding a fine line between being both raw sounding and melodic, this track could have done with some improved production. But it is the words that are at the forefront here as no punches are pulled from the get-go with confrontational lyrics concerning religion being used as a money-making venture. Unfortunately, it is a little over-bearing and preachy in all honesty, a pitfall the band later get into (albeit regarding different topics) on the overlong cuts 'Little Baby Swastikkka' and track 9 'And Here I Stand'.
Thankfully, that isn't the case on track 2 'Intellectualise My Blackness' which is somehow more effective despite not being any less confronting. The song title says it al here as Skin occasionally puts on a mocking voice to make her point quite clear. While it does come off as a little gimmicky, it seems more relevant and effective than any of the aforementioned 3 tracks.
Second single 'I Can Dream' is the clear highlight of the album and the song which sees some people label Skunk Anansie as one hit wonders. Everything comes together brilliantly here as an ominous guitar riff that is ably backed up by a very good rythym section is combined with especially effective vocals where Skin finds just the right balance between aggression and melody. Arguably one of the catchiest (& under-rated) rock songs of the 90's, this involving sing-along gem proves that the band do not have to be so direct and controversial with their lyrics to be noticed.
Despite the dominance of Skin, the musicianship on this album is occasionally rather impressive. Many of the tracks contain rather strong bass lines courtesy of Cass (Richard Lewis) which give some songs an additionally funky feel without going too over the top. But for the most part, the band play their part well without standing out too much.
The barometers of the album are likely to be the cuts which are more conventionally structured than the rest. 'All In The Name of Pity', 3rd single 'Charity', 4th single 'Weak', '100 Ways To Be A Good Girl' and closer 'Rise Up' all head towards mainstream rock territory to some extent. While not entirely convincing in the role, the fact that the overall feeling is that Skunk Anansie are able to pull these tracks off is a positive and a sign that they are rather talented with good potential.
It is their songwriting skills which is what they will live and die by though and that isn't necessarily a bad thing when the band can come up with an awesome song title such as 'It Takes Blood & Guts To Be This Cool But I'm Still Just a Cliche'. A memorable (for one reason or another) track, this effectively switches pace often and alternately conveys both sides of the fan/musician hero worship angle as Skin pleads "I see you, You see me, And who the hell am I supposed to be. I don't care now but I know I should". It all leads up to a tremendous crescendo which gets this song the closest to 'I Can Dream' in terms of quality.
Skunk Anansie may not be for everyone. Skin's dominance is clear and those who would prefer that themes such as politics, racism and religion stay out of music will consider themselves being preached to here. However, 'Paranoid & Sunburnt' is sufficiently even, contains enough variety and importantly has a good strike rate of hits compared to misses to more than get by. This is especially the case when one considers this is a debut album and there is still lots of room for improvement. Oh and just in case you missed it, this album also contains one of the catchiest and most under-rated rock songs of the 90's.
Recommended Tracks: I Can Dream, It Takes Blood & Guts To Be This Cool But I'm Still Just a Cliche, Intellectualise My Blackness and Charity.