At this point, I could easily fire off all the old clichés about St. Albans’ Enter Shikari. Yes, they’re fearless genre pirates, no respecters of boundary, who’ve proved their utter fearlessness over the course of three stunning albums. And yes, they’ve got a staunch, and deeply appreciated political conscience, powerful and art-defining particularly in their later work, which is sorely absent from music in the modern public focus.
The themes of universal human solidarity, and the evils of capitalism and corporate greed, have been rightly and explosively expounded in their work, no more so than in 2009’s phenomenal Common Dreads. I’ve followed them from the beginning; in my wayward younger days, I found my lower lip sundered in the mosh-pit, during ‘Sorry You’re Not A Winner’, in a grimy Bristol venue. However, it seems to me that, the only valid criticism of their last effort, 2011’s A Flash Flood Of Colour, was that the lyrics, while masterful, came before the music; of the two elements that made Shikari the beautiful beast they are, one dominated at the cost of the other, and the variety of their tapestry became something more of a dichotomy.
However, in their latest offering, the band have reminded us once again that these ‘cliches’ are, like it or not, what define them; while the lazy labels of ‘fearless innovators’ and ‘political firebrands’ certainly have become hackneyed in relation to Shikari in isolation, they remain important crucially for their opposition to all else, and they remind us of this amply in The Mindsweep.
Initially, the album strikes the listener for its lyrical positivity. Contrasted with the more apocalyptic, doomy picture of the house, teetering on the edge of oblivion presented at the opening of A Flash Flood Of Colour, the theme of ‘The Appeal & The Mindsweep’ is one of strength; in numbers, in resolve, in conviction. I will confess I did feel hairs crawling on the back of my neck during the shout along ‘you are not alone’ refrain.
In addition, their political message, frustratingly intangible in previous offerings, is refined to cover specific areas; the delicious groove and convincing rapping of ‘The Anaesthetist’ propels lyrics full of bile at the privatisation of the NHS, and the financial monopolization of all our health; the metaphor of financial ‘investors’ ‘sucking the blood of the afflicted’ is viscerally effective. The odd time, jagged riffage of ‘There’s A Price On Your Head’, further disguises a laser-targeting smack down of the class system, before segueing into a brutal breakdown; the deft half-rhyme of ‘I am upper-middle-class, I am living in the past’ had me smiling.
In addition, even as the band’s politics has been refined, utterly silencing those who might smack them down with the inevitable ‘ignorant lefty’ labels (and indeed, which may arguably have been justified in the ‘Common Dreads’ era), the variety has also been expanded. There are a few songs here that are testament to the bands renewed unpredictability in the wake of A Flash Flood Of Colour ; ‘Myopia’, in particular, moves from spacious, Radiohead-esque tranquillity to a barrage of double-kick courtesy of drummer Rob Rolfe, the brief interlude shows Rou Reynold’s renewed knack for orchestral arrangement, and the final reprise of ‘Appeal/The Mindsweep’ eventually descends into glorious chaos, as an echo of Prokofiev’s ‘The Montagues and the Capulets’ gives way Reynolds ushering in ‘the cavalry’ to harangues of synthesised brass.
The band have utterly succeeded in restoring my lapsed interest in them; this album is less predictable than A Flash Flood…, and more politically cogent than Common Dreads. And to think that I originally lost interest, in thrall to some contrived, self-regarding notion of ‘growing up’. Heartily, rabidly recommended.
Download, ‘There’s A Price On Your Head’, ‘Dear Future Historians…’, ‘Anaesthetist’.
PHOTO/Kmeron – flickr