With the UK currently sinking into the sea under the weight of its own incompetence, it’s times like these where the country’s punk bands really shine, standing up and articulating the feelings of the man in the street. It was an honour that, until recently, had been bestowed upon The King Blues, but with their current shitshow of a reunion falling way, way off the mark, Sonic Boom Six have the perfect chance to step out of their shadow and lead the charge. And while both bands have often been thrown together in the same boat – both being street-level ska-punk bands with clear hip-hop influences – The F-Bomb finally sees Sonic Boom Six lap the former champs in spectacular fashion.
The F-Bomb largely sees the Manchester mob playing to their strengths, namely being provocative. Away from the artwork / title combo that could potentially spark some undesirable comments from certain close-minded individuals, the band don’t censor themselves lyrically on this album, and while at points they aren’t as scathing as other socially conscious acts (or even as themselves at points in their career), the fact that they don’t shy away from such topical issues paint them as a band with a voice that needs to be heard. And the opinions do run a wide gamut of subjects, everything from feminism (No Man No Right) and domestic abuse (Worship Yourself) to racism (From The Fire To The Frying Pan) and vapid celebrity culture (All The Same To Me).
But the thing about Sonic Boom Six is that they’re very good at taking these sorts of subjects for their music and flipping expectations of what the actual music should sound like on their head, and The F-Bomb is no different. While the lyrics do contribute to this – both No Man No Right and Worship Yourself are framed in such a way as to convey potential positive outcomes, and feel truly empowering in that respect – it’s the music that does the heavy lifting, with searing horns and thick, serpentine basslines melding together for a near-perfect flow. It’s a potently irresistible mix, and a far more enjoyable method of getting across a message than being preached at – pro-peace anthem Love is set to an absolutely riotous disco beat, while Joanna, a song inspired by Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace and her experiences with gender dysphoria, goes full-on ska with its trumpets and steel drums for a track that’s so laidback it’s practically horizontal.
For an album adorned with such topical, hard-hitting content, The F-Bomb does its utmost to actually sound fun to listen to, and bar the over-long, undercooked Echoes In The Dark, it remains consistently successful in its efforts. Every element feels in complete equilibrium, bouncing off each other for the best possible effect. It’s perhaps best executed in the vocals, with the band’s dual vocalists both playing their own crucial part in maintaining this balance. Laila Khan is the more prominent vocalist throughout, her smooth, sweet coos being more suited to regular frontperson duty (especially on the chilled reggae ballad Train Leaves Tomorrow), whereas Barney Boom’s broad Mancunian patois comes in when a bit more aggro favour is needed, like the grime / 2 Tone mashup Drop The Bass (And Pick It Up). Such a trade-off doesn’t always work entirely smoothly – Boom’s contributions on No Man No Right feel a bit clumsy and misplaced – but these are really only minor inconveniences than full-on issues.
And that’s really a testament to Sonic Boom Six as a band for crafting an album as well-balanced and overall consistent as this. Because, for an album that was completely bypassed by any sort of hype in its run-up, The F-Bomb stands out as a true hidden gem. It’s certainly one of Sonic Boom Six’s finest to date, and is enough to elevate them to the very summit of the UK’s political punk pile. They’re not just a great band, but an important one as well, and The F-Bomb stands as the perfect piece of evidence.
For fans of: The King Blues, Mouthwash, Millie Manders
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The F-Bomb’ by Sonic Boom Six is out now on Cherry Red Records.