A mostly enjoyable artefact of 1990s rock nostalgia.
Mike Diver 2009
Never the most fashionable nor the biggest-sounding band of the 1990s Brit-rock flock, Skunk Anansie’s star burnt up in the atmosphere as soon as it tumbled in 2001. But this best-of set is a valuable reminder that, while the four-piece’s comeback of this year wasn’t the most widely anticipated, the material they released during their peak period of 1995-96 was of a consistently high quality.
Fronted by a veritable enigma in the shape of vocalist Skin – the poor commercial performance of her interim solo work hasn’t detracted from her consistently powerful, soulful vocals – Skunk Anansie were a weird proposition, chunky of riff and provocative of attitude, but one that attracted mainstream attention. Debut album Paranoid and Sunburnt was their highest-charting collection, reaching number eight in 1995; from it, the singles Selling Jesus and I Can Dream rocked hard, while Charity showcased the band’s slightly softer side. But it was Weak, the fourth and final single from Paranoid…, which truly made the band’s name. An immediate favourite, an anthem for all levels of live activity, the song remains much more than a fan’s favourite. It’s a vital part of the 1990s’ musical history, to the extent where Rod Stewart covered it on his 1998 album, When We Were the New Boys.
1996’s Stoosh was a more confident, developed album than its predecessor, and consolidated its makers’ position in the Brit-rock hierarchy – near the top, but not quite kings of the hill. Their moment atop the pile would come in 1999, when they headlined Glastonbury’s Sunday bill. Their album of the same year, though, was not up to the standard of their previous pair – Post Orgasmic Chill seemed complacent, its adventures into electronica rudimentary at best and epitomised by lead single Charlie Big Potato. The track, which opens Smashes & Trashes in aberrant style, is strings-and-all nu-metal crunch meets formulaic drum and bass skitter. Skin’s vocal soars, but the arrangement is tiresome despite the laid-on-thick tumult and drama.
But the singles from Paranoid… and Stoosh – the latter spawned the excellently anarchic sing-along All I Want, dub-rock stomp Twisted (Everyday Hurts) and Brazen (Weep), which found the group at their most affectingly introspective – are fantastic echoes of a period when domestic rock challenged the world, and often won it over. Not everything’s aged brilliantly, but that’s not the point – Smashes & Trashes is a most(ly) enjoyable artefact of 1990s rock nostalgia.