Review Summary: Legit Crustcore Classic from ‘94
As they say hindsight is always 20/20. Winding the clock back to a summer evening in ‘94 and my neighbour’s slightly older son has just returned home from a festival clutching a mashed up drumstick claiming he’s seen a band who are ‘going to change the world’, and so of course the naive enthusiasm of the young teenager is such that all it took was a few more minutes of wild enthusing and a thirty second snippet of the band in question’s music and I was 100% sold; Senser were the next saviours of rock n’ roll. Two years earlier and my taste was such that this crossover band would have met with far more resistance but thanks to Cypress Hill, The Prodigy, Portishead and others I was starting to embrace music outside of the usual white kid rock/metal spectrum. The stage was set and the time was ripe for Senser to rock my world.
When it comes to describing who a band are influenced by a handy old trick is to simply carry out a roll call of who they toured with, in this case the illustrious list makes for strange reading, a ragtag bunch that includes spaced out instrumentalists Ozric Tentacles, politically motivated baldy Moby and agit-rockers Skunk Anansie. Into that melting pot throw in The Prodigy, Stereo MCs, Asian Dub Foundation and Rage Against the Machine and you’re getting mighty close to decoding the musical DNA of Senser. If that list of musical ingredients is giving off the strong whiff of five day unwashed dreadlocks and wacky backy then you’re in the right ball park, this band were politically charged crusties spending half their time raging against the injustice of the man and the other half sitting in a field attempting to commune with nature. This strange dichotomy was also reflected on their debut album ‘Stacked Up’ which found space on the same disc for both the agreeably cheesy post-rave Enya chill of ‘Peace’ and the ludicrous military-baiting punk metal assault of ‘No Comply’.
So ‘Stacked Up’ already faced a challenge trying to combine such a wide range of musical influences but to make things even more chaotic this recording had to make space for the artistic input of no less than seven band members, including two lead vocalists. Singing (well predominantly rapping) duties are split here between Heitham Al-Sayed and Kerstin Haigh, the former adopting the same style of rapping for most of the album, his tone and delivery rarely changing from track to track. I tend to imagine the only concession Heitham ever made for variety was having a dial fitted to the side of his head that controlled his intensity level, so periodically in the recording studio someone would turn it down a few notches...only for it to inexorably drift back up to maximum setting of its own accord. When Kerstin breaks off from her clean singing into a rap she’s usually smothered in effects, I’m guessing in an effort to try and maintain this intensity and stop her sounding like Heitham’s feebly nagging missus.
This being a fourteen track album of largely rap vocals it goes without saying that the lyrics are legion, angry words piling atop yet more angry words with barely any letup. Part of the appeal of ‘Stacked Up’ is undoubtedly picking apart some of the most misguided and clunky lyrics of the era, whether Senser turn their crosshairs to gun culture (‘but I won’t pack a gat like that ‘cause I don’t wanna’), corporate conspiracy theories (‘they’ve got a drug to numb my erection but they won’t take this from me, my state of mind!’) or the politics of the man (‘ if it becomes evident that they’re willing to vote for a president or a prime-time minister’) the result is much the same, hilarity ensues. Needless to say at the time I worshipped these lyrics and quite possibly believed them to be the opening salvo to kick start impending revolution, but time is a cruel, cruel mistress.
Despite all its faults the album is frequently a lot of fun, the catchy bass line and turntable scratching help to turn ‘Switch’ into a certified head-bobber, ‘What’s Going On’ sports a relentless riff a la Apollo 440 and ‘Eject’ is the best example of all the band’s styles mashed together in one five minute composition. ‘Stacked Up’ may come over as antiquated now but you have to accept that this is a far more accurate reflection of what the majority of people in the UK were listening to in 1994 than indie touchstones like ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ or ‘Grace’, and despite losing the fight for lasting relevance long ago the album still retains a certain nostalgic charm. Plus, you know, the man hasn’t gone anywhere brothers, ‘eject the program reject the power’, fight the capitalist filth, viva la revolution!