Review Summary: A worthwhile reunion with a great shot at longevity.
For your average Joe and Jane; MyFace, Spacebook and Twatter have unfortunately made it easier to reunite with people that they have not seen in a while (most likely because they did not want to in the first place). In the music industry however, there is very good motivation for a band reunion to take place… The almighty dollar! With greater competition between music promoters and festivals nowadays, such organizers are having to think outside of the square to attract an audience… And it is band reunions which are currently very much in vogue. Hugely popular groups such as Rage Against The Machine, Blur, Faith No More, Blink 182, Van Halen and Jane’s Addiction have all recently reunited and made a fortune off of touring. Will these bands still be together in 3 years time? Will they have even released a new album? They did split up – or was it going “on hiatus” – for a reason, so it is fair to state that their re-appearance was significantly for bank balance purposes.
These ultra successful artists have a difficult time successfully reuniting for any length of time, since the spotlight is well and truly on them to meet extremely high expectations. In fact, it could be argued that relatively less auspicious bands have a greater probability of longevity, since funding one’s retirement is unlikely to be the paramount reason for their reunion. One such example appears to be distinctive English hard-rockers Skunk Anansie. Releasing three acclaimed - if inconsistent – albums in the mid to late nineties, the quartet quietly disbanded at the turn of the century, with each member playing rather low-key roles in other musical projects (the most notable being Mark Richardson drumming for Feeder for seven years). Now, a decade on, Skunk Anansie are back. Unhurried, the band has gone about things the correct way; A ‘Greatest Hits’ package containing three new tracks… Then some touring… And finally; a brand new album in ‘Wonderlustre’.
Those expecting Skunk Anansie to pick up right where they left off are going to be surprised – and possibly disappointed – with ‘Wonderlustre’ initially. There is a much more modernized sound exhibited here… And so it should be, since it is not 1999 anymore. The shaved head, six foot something black lead vocalist Skin (Deborah Dyer) may not have aged one bit, but she is clearly more content and less angry a decade on. Gone are the overt political and racial stances which permeated through their earlier work, even if the lyrics often retain the same darker edge behind the changed themes. Album highlight ‘Over The Love’ is evidence of a mature band in the here & now, with its soaring guitars and the LP’s best vocal hook. That is not to say Skunk Anansie are now a pop band. Lead single ‘My Ugly Boy’ and ‘Feeling The Itch’ contain the band’s trademark thick crunching guitar riffs and Skin’s assertive attention-getting vocals. The musicianship is as tight as ever on ‘Wonderlustre’, with everyone clearly on the same page.
One of Skunk Anansie’s greatest achievements over the first part of their career was the improvement they made on slower, vulnerable ballads. That progression is thankfully continued here with the strings-assisted ‘Talk Too Much’, heartfelt ‘You Saved Me’ and melodic ‘You Can’t Always Do What You Like’ delivering some of Skin’s most assured vocal performances yet! Following a decade long hiatus, one should expect some rust however, and it does eventuate that ‘Wonderlustre’ does not always get the balance quite right. They just cross the line into outright poppy territory on ‘The Sweetest Thing’, while the album’s mid-section probably could have done with everyone going berserk and revisiting their heavier roots just once. However, with not one track breaking the four minute barrier, it does result in Skunk Anansie’s most cohesive and consistent release to date.
In a sense, this is a difficult album to rate. Would ‘Wonderlustre’ be gaining as much praise if Skunk Anansie had released two or three albums between 1999’s ‘Post Orgasmic Chill’ and this? Probably not, but it is simply too difficult to ignore that this is the LP of a recently reunited band. It is a credit to this unique outfit that they have naturally evolved and remained relevant by not taking the easy way out and simply continuing where they left off, since that would have resulted in a dated recording. Furthermore, it is a brave progression to make since loyalists could be alienated, while a sufficient amount of new followers may not be won over. For that reason, ‘Wonderlustre’ will ultimately be a polarizing release, and one which will take many spins to get one’s head around. Those that remain patient however, will be rewarded… For ‘Wonderlustre’ proves that the reformation of Skunk Anansie is very much a worthwhile one… And a rare reunion with a great shot at longevity.
Recommended Tracks: Over The Love, Talk Too Much, Feeling The Itch & My Ugly Boy.