Monday, 12 August 2019

The Selecter - Cruel Britannia (1999)

Better must come....


Released on 23 February 1999

Running time 42.45

This was a superb, retrospective, politically-motivated album from a revitalised Selecter. It harks back to the group's halcyon days of 1979-1981 with its instantly recognisable bassy ska sound and Pauline Black's committed but tuneful voice. It is an excellent album, despite its music being from an earlier era's style. The sound is crystal clear, the band play with vitality and vigour and their political motivation is as strong as it ever was. If this had been released in 1980 it would have been an overwhelming success, as it was, in 1999, it still garnered considerable critical acclaim.


1. Cruel Britannia
2. Respect Yourself
3. Musical Servant (1927-1988)
4. How Can I Win?
5. Better Must Come
6. The Viper
7. Never Said I Love You
8. What A Confusion
9. Bad Dog
10. Lyrical Sniper
11. Blind Leading The Blind                     

Cruel Britannia is a bassy, lively two-tone skank that calls in to question the initial optimistic Blair years of 1997-98. Always enjoy a bit of biting social comment, they group are suggesting that nothing much has changed. If they were unhappy then, God help them in 2019. Musically it revisits the glory ears of two-tone. Pauline Black's vocal is as good as it ever was. Respect Yourself sees the group cover The Staple Singers' black consciousness/civil rights anthem in solid fashion. The song suits the two-tone skanking. "If you don't give a fuck about the quality of life you're living....", sings Black. I am not sure the pious Mavis Staples would ever have sang it so graphically.

Musical Servant (1927-1988) is a catchy, musically respectful tribute to ex-Skatalite Tommy McCook. It is a full-on ska song, unsurprisingly. How Can I Win? has an absolutely delicious, melodic bass line underpinning a very typical Selecter groove. Better Must Come is a bass, skank and harmonica-driven cover of Delroy Wilson's rock steady reggae classic. It is wonderfully done with Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson's vocal sounding for all it was worth like the great Toots Hibbert. The Viper is a rumbling piece of semi-instrumental, late sixties/early seventies-influenced skanking, with serious Dave & Ansel Collins influence, in both the organ sound and the vocal interjections. Great stuff. Takes you right back to the summer of 1971.

"Never Said I Love You is a really atmospheric, slightly European-sounding slow burner, showing how the group could instrumentally diversify a little within the basic ska reggae framework. It contains some mysterious guitar lines and a nice deep bit of dubby bass near the end. What A Confusion starts with a classic Johnny Too Bad-style organ intro before we get some toasting and then a classic seventies rock steady/classic reggae vocal. The bass line is yet again sublime and overall this is a very uplifting, highly nostalgic track. Bad Dog is an amusing, upbeat ska number sung to a dog, warning it that it may not get a biscuit.

Lyrical Sniper is a dubbier revisit of The Viper. It has echoes of The Beat is its bass/dum interplay. It is full of infectious dub rhythms. The final track, Blind Leading The Blind is a diversification, an evocative ballad in an acoustic Redemption Song style. It highlights what a great voice Pauline Black had/has.

This was a really impressive album from a band who are still touring and releasing material in 2019. It is not just a good two-tone style album, it is a good rock steady reggae album with dub and other influences throughout.