Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Selecter - Celebrate The Bullet (1981)

Washed up and left for dead....


Released on 27 February 1981

Running time 42.29

After 1980's successful debut album, Too Much Pressure, like their ska compatriots The Specials, The Selecter felt the need to change things a bit for their follow-up. Amidst a background of band members leaving, annoyed at the change in musical direction from full-on ska to a more new wave sound, and a few changes in image too, the album was received with mixed feelings both group members and the public alike. It was a commercial and critical failure. To this day, I don't know why. I feel there is a case for its defence as a bit of an underrated piece of work. It is a fine album, featuring bleak lyrics about social deprivation, inequality, racism and cold war paranoia. It is musically inventive and atmospherically spot on for 1981. Just as The Special's Ghost Town was. This is Ghost Town in a whole album.

Indeed, singer Pauline Black had this to say about the album, in retrospect -

“…I stand by Celebrate the Bullet wholeheartedly. It is a proud album by a proud band. We were rowing against the tide and ultimately were swamped in the mighty swell of the '80s pop market. There was no place for us in the musical world anymore…”

I'm not sure she is totally right about there being no place in the musical world for them anymore, but certainly the "two tone" bands faced a future of having to diversify or disappear. The Specials lasted only two albums, The Beat for three, Bad Manners for a couple. The Selecter would not return until 1994 so she probably had a point. It just goes to show how comparatively short the two tone thing was. Just 1979-80 basically.


1. (Who Likes) Facing Situations
2. Deep Water
3. Red Reflections
4. Tell Me What's Wrong
5. Bombscare
6. Washed Up And Left For Dead
7. Celebrate The Bullet
8. Selling Out Your Future
9. Cool Blue Lady
10. Their Dream Goes On
11. Bristol And Miami                                 

(Who Likes) Facing Situations is a lively opener, like something off The Specials' first album or Elvis Costello's Get Happy!! - all driving organ and solid ska-style drums. It has a nice dubby, bassy bit as well. It had a male vocal, from Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson (I think). The broody, again Specials-esque Deep Water has Pauline Black back on vocals. It was a good, atmospheric skank. Red Reflections is has a fast infectious rhythm and a sensual vocal from Black. It has a sublime bass line on it. Check it out. Great stuff.

Tell Me What's Wrong features a male vocal again and packs a real ska punch. Bombscare is a wonderful, rumbling, menacing, dubby but sometimes upbeat number, packed full of atmosphere. Washed Up And Left For Dead features Norman Watt-Roy from Ian Dury's Blockheads on bass and is another impressive number, with excellent dubby bass once more and a great vocal from Black. Celebrate The Bullet is also very bleak and brooding, being an anti-gun song. It features some searing Gary Moore-style guitar, an unusual addition and a sign of an increased musical adventurousness. There is also one of those excellent ska trombone solos at the end.

Selling Out Your Future could have been written for the political situation in the UK in 2019. It has a great dubby, skanking sound and captures the feeling of 1981 just as acutely as Ghost Town did. It as such a shame that nobody properly appreciated this until years later. Cool Blue Lady has a lively beat and general feelgood vibe, compared to a lot of the material, its lyrics about a tragic singer are nullified by the vibrancy of the track, however. Their Dream Goes On is a sonorous, dark number, almost jazzily blue. The traditional ska sound is restored on Bristol And Miami, a song about recent riots in Bristol.

The fact that this album effectively did for the Selecter was incredibly unfortunate. This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a career-ending album. Sometimes the ways things work out is so unfair. For many, this is a more cohesive, more meaningful album than Too Much Pressure. Thank goodness it has had a re-assessment in recent years.