Chumbawamba are back, armed with acoustic guitars, accordion and trumpet, five-part harmonies, a bucketful of attitude and a new 25-track album called ‘The Boy Bands Have Won’. It actually has a much longer title than that but let’s call it by its pseudonym.
Chumbawamba aren’t like other bands. I think that was clear around 20 years ago when they made their first album, ‘Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records’ as a response to Live Aid. Chumbawamba began with a mission to be interesting and arresting, to be literate and understanding.
The new album is a collection of such ideas; some are just passing thoughts, others are fully-formed songs. The album is gentle and warm in tone, but caustic in intent. There’s nothing worse than being wishy-washy; nothing worse than just sounding lovely and providing a backdrop for a gentle, pleasant, warm-weather pleasantness. Believe me.
‘The Boy Bands Have Won’ is Chumbawamba playing with culture, with the idea of recycling our own culture. We all have this vast history of ‘stuff’, musical and historical and in art and sport and politics and a million other things. And it’s all there for the taking.
So the band have written all these tunes and words and mixed them up with ideas about culture, mixed in samples of themselves from the past, mixed in a bunch of different musical styles and messed around with the Chumbawamba formula. Because that’s what too many bands do – stick to the formula. And that’s boring after a while. So here they go again, only this time it’s different again. And again. And again.
The album features guests the Oysterband, Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson, Barry Coope and Jim Boyes… and a hundred others, give or take a few. Some of its 25 songs tackle all the important stuff like poetry, war, death, knickers and Lord Bateman’s motorbike accident. There’s some heavyweight wrestling with WH Auden, Bertold Brecht and Lord Bono.
There’s a song about El Fusilado, the man who survived a firing squad execution. A song about Gary Tyler, an innocent man who has spent thirty years as an inmate on America’s death row. A song about Margaret Thatcher. And a song, ‘Add Me’, pre-released only on Chumbawamba’s MySpace site, a gentle dig at the creeps who clutter up cyberspace. The songs are sad, jolly, up, down, quiet, loud, slower, faster, all in a big mix. It’s a real modern-day concept album. Believe us.