Skunk Anansie are one of those bands that everyone always forgets are still releasing albums, and it’s not entirely their fault. Back in their mid- to late-90s heyday, they were a breath of fresh air amongst their Britrock peers thanks to talismanic frontwoman Skin being a much-needed breath of fresh air from swathes of white, male vocalists. But with most of Britrock’s first wave either consigned to the history books or, in the case of acts like Feeder and the Manic Street Preachers, adorned with the ‘heritage act’ badge, Skunk Anansie have been thrust into the backseat behind newer, more popular acts. Clawing their way back up into the A-list is essentially nothing more than a pipe-dream right now, but regardless, an album like Anarchytecture isn’t doing a whole lot to help them progress.
In the fashion of other ‘older’ bands (again, see Feeder and the Manic Street Preachers), Skunk Anansie’s sixth album sees them toning down their more vibrant leanings. On here, their formerly punky guise has been more or less scrapped completely and, somewhat fittingly, replaced with a sound more akin to the genre’s younger, less frantic brother new wave. And while on paper a cleaner, more synthetically-backed Skunk Anansie could be an interesting proposition, all that Anarchytecture achieves is filing the fangs down to lose any sort of potency they once had. Victim‘s comparatively thin guitar line is overshadowed by a thudding drumbeat, while the largely airy Without You slinks by with its featherweight riff and weedy electronic beat. It all feels overly smooth and safe, nothing like the band who were the much-needed source of danger and unpredictability in their scene.
Skin’s voice is also a polarising factor here. It’s by far the best element present throughout the album – a silky smooth croon that adds an ethereal quality to slower, more languid numbers like Death To The Lovers, but picks up for a more Florence Welch-esque quality during rockier instances such as Beauty Is Your Curse. But while that may be the case, it feels stripped of its former livewire sensibility, and while its smoothness fits better with the actual music on offer, there’s still a nagging feeling of consciously slowing down. The fact that the album’s single shrill shriek in That Sinking Feeling feels out of place for this band now certainly speaks volumes.
Still, while Anarchytecture largely feels like a serious drain in mojo for Skunk Anansie, it’s not without a couple of tracks that make full use of the band’s new sound. Love Someone Else feels pleasantly understated in how it’s built around a driving disco beat, and the infectious dance-rock of In The Back Room stands head and shoulders above the rest of what’s on offer. More overtly rocky numbers like We Are The Flames and the puzzlingly short Suckers! also show glimmers of light, but they feel a bit too basic to really have a long-lasting impact.
But a couple of passable moments doesn’t make a great album, and Anarchytecture is a prime example of that. It undoubtedly rocks to some degree, but it feels more calculated than anything, especially compared to the band in their prime. It feels as though Skunk Anansie have gone down the same increasingly placid path as their peers, and in a similar fashion, the results are distinctly underwhelming.
For fans of: Placebo, Garbage, The Cranberries
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Anarchytecture’ by Skunk Anansie is out now on earMUSIC.