Subculture is the rhythm-packed, vibrant, fresh new album from The Selecter, and listening to it you understand why this band has remained relevant, and with a strong following today. The album is a 12-track work and is mostly co-penned by Pauline Black, the iconic voice of contemporary ska/reggae/2-tone music.
Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson, also co-writer on several of the album tracks, is the only other original member of the band, and though the band is not overly focused on nostalgic backward glancing, it is somewhat charming to know that these two are still a combined force. Gaps's authentic and credible MC'ing and harmonic vocalizations are a pleasure to listen to as this is a voice you have to search hard to hear today. With new members, I wanted to know whether it sometimes felt like two bands, a mix of the old and the new. The band said:
'The Selecter is a constantly evolving band bringing together former members and the best new crop of talent we can find. Bands have to refresh occasionally - at the moment just like our new single says, we are 'Boxfresh'.
Pauline Black and Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson (Photo: The Selecter )
This is a band that has always had appeal for those on the fringes of society, the subcultures, the Mods, the Rockers, the Rude Boys and Rude Girls, Ska, Reggae, and Punk followers. It is a pull for those that love the street as a place to meet, chat, laugh, and listen to music.
The first track is 'Box Fresh', a passionate, soulful ska-based rhythm, setting out a commitment to the here and now, and always keeping things alive, wanting to know the new and emerging. Black's searing lead vocal promises 'a box fresh start, a brand new beginning'. She demands though, that change and freshness is good, but we must make sure we 'make it rude'. To keep things fresh, many bands with the longevity of the Selecter are often asked about which current acts they would be interested in working with. The band has clear ideas:
'Janelle Monae & Bruno Mars spring to mind- after all they are half way there with their fashion sense. Perhaps Mark Ronson would like to produce!'
A lover's rock and dancehall vibe makes an appearance on the track 'It never worked out', and you can imagine it playing at a party at the end of the night, when energy is flagging, and one final track is put on that invigorates the party again - this is the one.
The Selecter (Photo: Jules Annan)
For activists, justice and rights campaigners, 'Breakdown', set against a reggae dub and bass, and reverberating vocals, is the stand out track. This is about police brutality, injustice and misuse of lethal force by the police. The song's tragic roll call of people killed by the system, whether that system is race-based street thuggery, institutional restraint procedures, police shootings, or people innocently caught in the cross-fire of gang related shootings. Stephen Lawrence, Cherry Groce, Joy Gardner, Charlene Ellis and Letitia Shakespeare, Roger Sylvester, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Mark Duggan are all name checked, sadly for the manner of their deaths. 'Somethings are so wrong, nothing ever makes it right. There's gonna be a breakdown, a social breakdown, we've heard it all before' sings Black. This is my personal track of choice on the album.
A cover version of Patti Smith's 'Because the Night', co-penned by Smith and Bruce Springsteen appears on the album. The ska treatment, with Gaps toasting over Black's strong delivery of the melody really brings an interesting dynamic to this track and updates it.
There is a resurgence of interest in ska, reggae and 2- tone, with it featuring as the back drop to a number of television adverts, one featuring 'On my radio' all bringing in a new audience, and reeling back in the old audience who perhaps life has led away from ska. Selecter fans recently did a double take on hearing 'On my radio' , featuring a dancing pigeon as the back drop to a banking advertisement, and although it happened as a publishing deal rather than something the band actioned, they have taken it in good humour:
'Everybody in The Selecter thought that a pigeon dancing to 'On My Radio' for nearly a minute on TV was the coolest thing ever! That bird knew how to skank too!'
The Selecter: Subculture (Photo:The Selecter)
The immediate future is very busy for the band with many live performances ahead:
'We have festival performances throughout this summer, and an extensive headline UK tour booked in for November so that's as far as we know about for now. However, Australia & North & South America beckon in 2015, and there will be UK dates too'.
Yes, 1979 through 1981 were electrifying years for The Selecter, but 2015, with Subculture, they are stronger than ever. This album must be recommended as one of the sound tracks of summer 2015.
Subculture is out June 15. Visit http://www.theselecter.net/