Life goes on and our national pastime of consumerism has resumed, sort of. On seeing goods stacked high we, as Brits, traditionally like to reach for our wallets the way Shane did for his pistol. This reflex we like to call retail therapy and, like Shane, with it we believe we can right many wrongs. It’s a pastime that may yet help warm our gelid blood as we ask, on the down slope of this strangest of all summers, now what? Emerging blinking and hesitant into the light, we’ve been informed that birds are once again singing and that pints are again getting pulled, and somewhat emboldened we step out for the oven-ready tapas that we’re being paid to gobble beneath our masks.
And the soundtrack to all of this, as ever, gets released. Unsurprisingly, there’s a surfeit of new voices who have felt the need to comment on recent events to best capture history as it was made, to define the moment and place it on the figurative shelf where it can – from a distance of one metre plus – be observed by anyone brave enough to crawl out from under the bed.
‘Bread & Butterflies‘ is the third studio album from the South London-based trio Slovo that features purveyor of hip-hop Mike Ladd, Italian singer Barbarella and former Faithless guitarist Dave Randall. The record’s title sounds like the kind of diet we’ll all be asked to adopt before long in this age of groupthink. It’s a record released at a time of cultural confusion, issued into a society currently looking like one part Butlin’s holiday camp, one part edge-of-town-Aldi carpark and one part state-run panopticon. From the central tower, our guards can see us all (and all that we say and do) as a record very much of the moment drops onto turntables.
But sounding much like any other pop record that’s been produced over the past decade, this album is not so much predictable as complacent. If we, as the record’s makers profess, exist at a time of heightened social awareness and the concomitant tumult, then why does this offering not reflect said upheaval? Where’s the vim, the anger, the lyric barbs? It sounds mask-muffled, the record’s gravitas resting on the vocal gymnastics of the Italian cantante who bestrides her bedstead as if it were the Wembley Arena stage.
The band says it will pre-empt the album’s release with a track entitled ‘Woman On The Edge of Time’ (a pleasant enough madrigal), adding: “This is our tribute to the feminist sci-fi novel by the same name, written in 1976 by Marge Piercy. We love that book and were deeply moved by its portrayal of the possible dystopian and utopian futures that await us.” That await us? Isn’t the former already here? And isn’t the latter a pipe dream?
The formless spoken-word track ‘Simple Thing’ that champions socialism (the credo of how best to divide capitalist revenue) will appeal to… well, to socialists (the unspoken caveat being all non-socialists need not apply). Which means, feminist sci-fi apart, this collective chooses to wear political stripes, and yet the result is confused, more melée than aural cornucopia. Although the plaintive steel-string guitar of the final track ‘Rocco’s Lullaby’ does help to soothe the nerves.
We’re also told that this album is about “war, climate catastrophe, 1970s’ feminist sci-fi, revolution and lockdown”, yet the record appears only to be about everything that someone who has spent three months under the bed might be interested in as they emerge half blind into the new world in which people scurry in the shadows of high walls. Disappointingly, ‘Woman On The Edge of Time‘ has about as much to do with 1970s’ feminist sci-fi (are we talking Roger Vadim here?) as the new Weller album has to do with quality control.
Randall says: “This is an optimistic album, born of the belief that a better world is possible.” Which is all well and good just as long as the music-buying public plucks up enough courage to make it down to the local music venue. When it opens. Which will be next year. Or the year after. Or whenever.
Coming from South London, you’d perhaps surmise that this is a band that would come up with a much saltier offering, but we live in perplexing times. Yet if it’s perplexity you’re after look no further than ‘Bread & Butterflies’ which (the penny has just dropped) are two BBC sitcoms from the 1980s, both written by Carla Lane and to which the press release makes no reference. Perplexed? Well, who the hell isn’t right now.
‘Bread & Butterflies’ is out now