18 October 2015

Slaves - Are You Satisfied

So the Mercury music prize nominations were announced yesterday and it is time to start our collective look at the records that have been deemed worthy of being named album of the year.  Whilst I have looked at a few of them already through the course of the year, this is the first one I am looking at purely due to the award... but I almost reviewed it earlier in the year.  Slaves are a two piece from Tunbridge Wells in Kent and they formed in 2012. The duo consists of Laurie Vincent (guitar, bass, vocals) and Isaac Holman (drums, vocals), they are currently signed to Virgin EMI and have been making as much noise for themselves as possible.  The reason I was going to review them earlier is twofold:  1) They sort of got in a little war of words with Sleaford Mods and I wanted to see what the fuss was about.  2) Whilst awaiting Sleaford Mods on the streaming from Glastonbury 2015, Slaves were the act who were on stage beforehand.  The show started fine, but as the set went on my interest waned a bit as the songs started to merge into one.  As my interest started to drain, I decided to put it on the back burner and look at acts that were coming in and promptly forgot about it.  But not it is back to the forefront of my mind and I thought I would pick it up before the rest of the team, just because I was thinking about doing it earlier.  So it is time to see if this album does quench a thirst or if it is like drinking dry Weetabix....

Starting off the record is "The Hunter" starts with a rising riff, a set of lyrics about the state of the world and has an old school punk feeling that explodes with a sense of excitement.  It is an interesting number to start this album, the riff sound familiar but that is not a problem when it is being used so well; the vocals though, they trouble me a little.  It sounds a bit lazy in places and it when it is aggressive it sounds like it is aiming for Johnny Rotten and missing; a decent opening track but missing something.  With the sound of mocking laughter "Cheer up London" sounds like it is taunting the capital shi....sorry city of England with a mock-ney, Damon Albarn Country House era sing-a-long to annoy the masses and make their fans sing in unison.  Thankfully this is nowhere as annoying as Country House, it is a really good song and sounds as if it is influenced by The Fall, The Jam and Pop Will Eat Itself.  It is much better than "The Hunter" and is one of the tracks of the album that shows you what the fuss is all about.  The third track is called "Sockets" and it sounds as if a blues explosion has just been added to the song and they tone down that mock-ney vocal style in the song; it is nothing that has not been done before but it is a fierce song that will ignite a dance floor and make a party erupt.  It is another song that plays to their strengths and hides any weakness in their style.  With a sample about the emotion behind music, it starts with a glam rock feeling riff and once again I am reminded of The Fall in places.  It is another song that sounds decent and I can see why it is popular, but there is no excitement for me and there is a repetitive vibe to the music as well which is not engaging as it should be.

"Do something" continues that familiar feeling to the album; the song is an explosive riff and it feels like it should be the beginning to something huge, but that is it - the riff is formed and finished already.  The song does not develop and repeated listens to the song is akin to the law of diminishing returns – it is starting to become the pattern of the album.  The title track is next - "Are You Satisfied" and it is the first song to do something different, it is an acoustic song that actually shows the band have something else to them apart from shouty, noisy punk riffing that are only a few minutes in length.  Is it good?  Well it is no classic, but it is not a song with a limit self-life that is the Achilles heel of quite a few tracks on this record. "Wow!!!7AM" is a time warp for me and after a few listens I have found out why, it feels like it has took pieces of "Do Something", "The Hunter" and some sections of "Cheer Up London" mixed into this song and it feels cobbled together from left over parts of those songs that were not deemed to be worthy of included in those songs.  The repetitive nature of the record is working against this song, it really does pale with each listen.  "Hey" is an immediate improvement to the album, you are driven into another punk/blues song that sounds as if disdain is dripping from each note and drum beat.  At least it sound as if it is original in some way, it is a shot in the arm that was needed on this album.  "Live Like An Animal" on the other hand is another song that does not feel as if it is lacking the bite that some of the other songs on the album, it just feels as if it was included to add to extended the album by a few moments.

Introduced to the world with feedback and a Kraftwerk bassline, "Ninety Nine" is actually one of the best song on the album with a dose of attitude that is actually matched by the music and lyrics as well.  It is not fancy, it is not trying anything clear or that different from a lot of this album, it just all comes together for this song in a way that is a rare currency on this album.  "She Wants Me Now" reminds me of "Connection" by Elastica, it is very simple in its delivery and primitive; it is also back to that repetitive and monotonous after a few listens which is such a shame.  It does not have the ability to deliver the same impact after repeated listens, maybe they should have been available for that girl after all.  The penultimate track is "Feed the Mantaray" sounds as familiar as the rest of the album, you really know what you are getting from the band at this point; it is another song that initially raises my interest, but it loses something over time and after a while it just feels a bit tired.    Ending the album is "Sugar Coated Bitter Truth" which was the title of an earlier EP that the band released, it also ends the album on a high note.  Along with "Ninety Nine" it has something about it, it does not lose potential after the first listen and it actually grows with each listen.  If the album had have been more like this song and a few others, it would have been a world better.

To quote one of the lines from "Feed the Mantaray" - 'When the words don't work anymore and you are talking to yourself with your knees on the floor, what will you do?' and this is a problem with this record for me.  It does not have the depth to justify the hype, I reckon in a live gig and amongst the crowd these songs might take on a new dimension; on record it does not have that impact, it is too reliant on the short, sharp, shock tatic that has only worked for a tiny percentage of the time.  Also the vocals just do not rest well with me, it was something that shadowed the band all the way through the record.  I do not think that this is a bad album per se, it did entertaining for a throw away album and it is without a few moments that show that the band might be able to create a world beat in time.  This album is not that record, but they are getting the press and it is now an award nominated record - still does not mean it is anything other than average at best - it does not hit the spot, but I have heard a hell of a lot worse.

5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better

Top track - Ninety Nine

You can purchase Are You Satisfied from Amazon here

You can visit the Slaves website here (which has a link to their webstore as well)

You can follow the activities of Slaves on Facebook here

You can stream Are You Satisfied on Spotify here

You can stream Are You Satisfied on Deezer here

You can stream Are You Satisfied on Tidal here

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