Agitprop, 1992

Chumbawamba is a wonderful, irreverent, political pop ensemble with a real sense of humor. "Shhh" is, apparently, a very different album than the one they had originally intended to release -- the liner notes include some rather amusing letters from various publishers refusing permission to use their songs. Like Negativland, they've turned their annoyance at the state of copyright law into music, in the form of "Nothing that's New", which sounds so much like the Mekons in their drunken country waltz mode that I'm wondering if it's intended as a parody. "Bigmouth Strikes Again" and the title track link copyright issues with more traditional forms of censorship, invoking Lenny Bruce in "Bigmouth".

Elsewhere, they take on religion in various forms: "Look! No Strings!" is about airborne visions of Christ, and features the hymnlike refrain "Look no strings/just paper, glue and card/as the angels sing/paste the lord". It's not just Christians they mock, though: in "Happiness is Just a Chant Away" they sing "Harry Roberts, Harry Roberts, Roberts Roberts, Harry Harry". Just to prove nothing is sacred, they even mock their own line "you sometimes wonder and you sometimes wonder" (from "Rappaport's Testament" on their last album, "Slap!") in the song "Sometimes Plunder". The album-closing "Stitch That" tells of the revenge of a beaten wife with very black humor.

In terms of sound, this album has a bit more emphasis on guitars and "folk" instruments (fiddle & accordion), and Alice Nutter's vocals slide into Dead Can Dance-ish droning on "Pop Star Kidnap", but the hallmarks of the Chumba sound -- many-part harmonies, textural use of samples and keyboards, and a giddy kitchen-sinkism -- are all here in force.

Like the Mekons, Chumbawamba comes off as angry but never cynical. Their politics is one of personal struggle rather than parroted slogans, and their lively and satirical music is the perfect venue for it.

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