Slaves Deliver with their Third Album as their Originality Takes Over Again!
Every orifice of Slaves sweats the punk fever: wild eyes; knuckles white; words dripping in malice spat through clenched teeth, it’s an unmistakable diagnosis. The rapid release of their LPs Are You Satisfied? and Take Control firmly established their reputation as rabble rousers, with their vitriolic instrumentals and lyrics that – at the surface – scorned at the suburban status quo. The fundamental ingredients for the punk genre were there. These boxes ticked, Slaves were making punk palatable. Their catchiness, with earworm tracks that sounded nasty while still being something you wouldn’t be too ashamed to show your mother, had us blindly content that this was punk in its purest, sterling form. Slaves are not punk musicians – not punk, in that there is no provocation, nothing that can deeply disturb you to the point where every cell in your body wants to revolt against it, or revolt with it. They are pseudo-punk, warping the genre to their own ends. The spirit of punk felt absent. Their latest album ‘Acts of Fear and Love’ is the fulfilment of their statement of intent. Finally, it feels as if Slaves are not being angry for anger’s sake, but have produced a valid critique of the modern times. This time, they mean it.
The album opens with ‘The Lives They Wished They Had’, a tannoy-wielding mockery of the vapidity of today’s generation: “When you put your latest purchases on public display? / Is it praise you’re after? Or is it something more? / Like a desperate need for acceptance that you just can’t ignore?”. The guitarwork is sneering, culminating in a flare up of noise and fury, with Issac screaming “SLAVES! SLAVES!” over and over as the instrumental is in its death throes. This, you’ll think, this is what I came for.
‘Cut and Run’, the single that garnered the most interest before the release of the album, is sonically inferior. There is a very conscious stride away from their usual tantrum trope in this track, but it’s clear that their darts are missing the board. The sing-song bridges, cacophonous screeching and repetition of ‘Cut and Run’ is, quite frankly, exhausting to listen to. ‘Bugs’ is cut from the same cloth. “Another let-down generation”, Isaac complains; another let-down stock punk phrase.
For ‘Magnolia’, Slaves sharpen their knives for an attack on conformity: “Did you know, that 65% of UK homes contain at least one magnolia wall?” The magnolia wall is a metaphor for the nightmarish, bourgeois status quo. They force the image down your throat until the sight of a magnolia wall is enough to make you wretch. Their aptitude for taking something mundane and distorting it into a horror is one of the greatest merits of Acts of Fear and Love.
Midway through the album is perhaps the most disconcerting track on it, ‘Daddy’ – but not for the reason you might expect. It’s the furthest thing from the typical stream of bile jetting out of the depths of their guts. It’s quiet; more than that, it’s deeply sad, causing you to jolt not from wrath, but from how utterly off-guard it catches you because it is so unlike anything you’d come to expect from Slaves. The guitar is still recognisable as the one you heard only a few tracks before, the medium for thrashing, youthful rebellion, yet here it is, tamed. It’s as if someone sat them down, and asked “Why are you so angry? Where did this come from?”. It’s a deep breath out; it’s a sigh of relief. A short lamentation of a father through the eyes of a child: “Wasted again on these late nights with strange men / Spending like it’s nothing ‘cause he don’t know how to make friends / But he’s trying so hard”.
‘Photo Opportunity’ is similarly out-of-kilter for their conventional repertoire. An acoustic guitar, playing an uncomfortable vaudevillian rhythm accompanies Isaac, bashfully stepping forward, asking quietly, “Hello, what are you trying to do to me?” It’s the obligatory attack on the media vultures that encircle the famous; every artist, beyond a certain point, feels the need to retaliate against them. Like a macabre carousel, round and round you go, until the chorus hits like a torrential downpour, the speed throws you from your horse, and Slaves, the ringmaster of this circus, is screaming bloody murder in your face.
Just when you think you’ve got Slaves pinned down, in Acts of Fear and Love, they’ve stripped themselves of their platitudes and run brazenly in the opposite direction. A bitter pill to swallow, perhaps, for fans who worship their previously anthemic, but conceptually stunted work; what Acts of Fear and Love lacks in catchiness, it compensates with original design. The final track of the same name profits from Slaves’ innate menace, with spoken-word verses charged with a stealth that is effective two-fold without the need for noise. This record is demonstrative of the fact that Slaves are more than one-trick ponies. They show glorious inconsistency, with almost every track illuminating a new side to the duo that is jarring in just the right way. ‘All talk, no trousers; all bark, no bite’: a perception Slaves have more than seen off – but until their versatility on Acts of Fear and Love melds with the snap of their previous albums, Slaves are far from done.
Words by Sophie Walker
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