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Chumbawamba ABCDEFG Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

They retain the capacity to make you smile, dance, laugh and furrow your brow.

Stefan Appleby 2010

During their 27-year career, Chumbawamba haven’t made three albums in a row that could broadly be put into the same genre.

So it’s a strange sensation to sit down with this album and find that it almost follows on neatly from the two that preceded it. Since they slimmed down to a four-piece (officially augmented for the last two albums by Phil Moody’s accordion) for 2005’s A Singsong and a Scrap, they’ve released three albums with guests including such folk luminaries as the Oysterband and Coope, Boyes and Simpson.

The Oysterband, along with O’Hooley & Tidow and Jon Boden of Bellowhead, appear again on this new album. ABCDEFG takes as its cue the broad church that is music and its power to inspire fear, joy and togetherness and – of course – its employment as a tool of protest.

The bases touched upon in the songs are as educational, humorous and disparate as ever. We get the true story of an East German band being told that they don’t exist (You Don’t Exist); George Melly repelling a would-be robber by reciting Dadaist sound poems (Ratatatay); and the wonderful image of Metallica's frontman being tortured by listening to Chumbawamba at ear-splitting volume (Torturing James Hetfield) among many, many others. Another obvious highlight is Singing Out the Days, which stomps along with gusto and brings to mind the old protest anthems seen on the band’s English Rebel Songs album.

The true standout, though, is Wagner at the Opera, the story of a concentration camp survivor disrupting a Wagner recital in Israel in 2000 by waving a football rattle. The verses tell the story atop a simple backing made from washboard, tin drum, a whistle and the rattle itself, before a simple, repeated one-line chorus tops it all off. It sums up everything about the band – a story that you didn’t know beforehand from a group with a propensity for writing songs that you can’t stop singing. Above all, it’s something different.

The new slimmed-down version of the band still retains the capacity to make you smile, dance, laugh and furrow your brow – sometimes all at the same time.

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