Politicism in rock is a busted flush. Charlotte Church and Paloma Faith are more likely to offer an opinion on the state of the world than their much ‘cooler’ counterparts in the world of ‘indie’. You voted in the election? Why bother, say The Horrors. While Ellie Goulding is talking out against homelessness in Hackney, Muse’s new concept album ‘Drones’ is being laughed at. It’s pretty much conspiracy-theory-lite but at least they’re trying. On the whole, today’s rock bands fill arenas and play festivals with songs about very little. A spoof Kasabian Twitter account is more political than the band’s lyrical output.
Algiers are a band that aren’t fucking around. Their website is a headspinning collage of political slogans and essays, musical influences and reading lists, a challenge to investigate further. In video for single ‘Black Eunuch’, the band resembles a meeting of some underground revolutionary group, clapping and hollering. The song is an excellent introduction to the band’s sound. Gospel backing vocals, knife-edge guitars and Franklin James Fisher’s soul man roar. It’s exhilarating and rocks like a motherfucker.
‘Blood’ has something of the chain gang about it, Fisher in preacher mode. He sings of slavery and a population anaesthetised by television. The accompanying video mimics channel surfing but instead of banal entertainment shows, we are shown riots and band influences. (Too numerous to list here but the list runs from Public Enemy to IRA hunger strikers to Quentin Crisp to Nick Cave to MC5 to Malcolm X to….just watch it).
“Irony. Utility. Pretext” is the track on the album that strays furthest from the bands core sound, a John Carpenter meets Suicide electro cut with perhaps 2015’s strangest chorus ‘Embrace primitive man/Destroy primitive man’. There are not many songs dealing with themes of slavery and the destruction of identity that are this danceable. The video sees the band literally dancing in the ruins of a monument to utopian ideals. This is not Palma Violets.
Algiers are a band that have created their own world and language, an iconography for followers to invest in. Although worlds apart sonically, they remind me of Richey-era Manic Street Preachers. Confident, brash, inviting devotion, not caring about your ridicule, trying to Say Something. Where an early 90’s Manics fan might read ‘The Bell Jar’ and check out The Clash and The Smiths (as I did), an Algiers devotee might wonder what Suicide sound like or wonder what ‘The New Brutalism’ is about.
‘Algiers’ is not a flawless album. Some tracks struggle to differentiate themselves from others as the band go back to the gospel-no wave-punk well too many times. (To be fair, that is a well with no other users). Fisher, like the Manic’s James Dean Bradfield, sometimes has to stretch words into awkward shapes to make them fit the music, thus making it harder to understand the lyrics.
I’m maybe just looking for faults. This is a terrific debut album. Algiers are a cult looking to convert the masses. ‘Algiers’ might not be the album you want in these troubled times but it is the one you deserve.
‘Algiers’ is out now on Matador Records.