Agitprop, 1990

Chumbawamba is an ensemble that wears its politics on its collective sleeve -- or in this case, rather, in its CD booklet; all the songs are accompanied by quotations that expand on the incidents that inspired them. Tiananmen Square, Northern Ireland, and Auschwitz are among the locales they visit in these 8 songs (plus a closing instrumental version of the opening "Ulrike", retitled "Meinhof"). Despite the overtly political focus, the songs come across not as socialist marching songs but as sketches of struggles against oppression. The lyrics themselves are often oblique and the vocal style somewhat detached, and without the quotations I wouldn't have recognized most of the occurrences reported here. "Rappaport's Testament", based on Primo Levi's accounts of Auschwitz, carries the insistent refrain "I never gave up" -- it may be political, but it has little to do with left/right distinctions; it has everything to do with the strength of the spirit.

The powerful harmony vocals (but nothing else) call to mind Human Sexual Response, while the minimalist, horn-seasoned, funk-rock sound makes me wonder if there's a connection between Chumbawamba and the Redskins, a similar sounding band that had a more overt rally-the-masses radical message. They use occasional samples, not building songs around them but using them as musical one-liners. An "also appearing" credit, presumably referring to the samples, lists Mark E. Smith, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Elvis Presley, Lenny Bruce, Dagmar Krause, George Gershwin, Mark Perry, Poly Styrene, Philip Glass, Muzsicas Ensemble and the Gang of Four (but which one, I wonder) among others, and if you recognize more than half those names you should probably check this one out.

The booklet says this was recorded in early 1990, but the recent appearance of several copies in used stores makes me think that it's been recently released here (although it says Agit-prop records, France). In any case, this is one worth searching out.

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