In hindsight, it’s easy to see that people were far too willing to embrace Slaves as a “good” new band. Are You Satisfied? might have done something for someone back in 2015 (though further re-listens reveal less and less of what that could possibly be), but everything that the duo have put out since has has been either painfully basic and one-dimensional, or lacking in any sort of firepower that a punk band should have. Granted, to what extent that Slaves could really be considered a punk band is up for debate, but that’s how they’ve been marketed, and as the awful Take Control proved in 2016, they’ve been doing a pretty poor job at keeping that image up.
But to Slaves’ credit, Acts Of Fear And Love at least looks a bit more promising upon first glance. It’s significantly shorter than Take Control for one, and swapping out Mike D to bring back Jolyon Thomas on production would at least imply a move away from the hip-hop leanings that were so utterly butchered last time around. And yet, Acts Of Fear And Love just ends up as more proof of how limited an act Slaves actually are; their attempts to do more are valiant, but only come across as a band who really can’t do much of anything with any level of success.
For the best evidence of this, you only have to take no more than a cursory listen, given that Acts Of Fear And Love is plenty comfortable with flaunting the newfound melody brought over from Britpop and indie-rock that Slaves have taken onboard. And there are two main reasons that this really doesn’t work, the first being that this whole culmination of a style has not aged well in the slightest. Cut And Run and Magnolia clearly want to take the prime position within Slaves’ canon, but with tactless, bashed-out guitars and a mix coated in a thick shade of brown, there’s so little that’s actually appealing to even listen to. That’s not even mentioning the duo’s basic, almost incompetent style of throwing these tracks out there without any meat to back them up.
It’s the second reason that totally undoes Acts Of Fear And Love with minimal hesitation though, and that’s the presence of the band themselves. This is reportedly a less angry album than past works, but at least when there’s something to be angry about, like the obsession with having a performatively attractive lifestyle above anything else on The Lives They Wish They Had and Magnolia, or the jabs at modern politicians on Bugs, the fact that Slaves are at least capable of whipping up a frenzy (albeit a safely-constrained, mainstream-friendly one) is enough to give them a pass. But it’s the fact that this album tries to get sentimental and deep that’s utterly laughable, primarily because as a frontman, Isaac Holman can barely sing, let alone convincingly convey any sort of emotional range. It’s all well and good writing songs about beleaguered midlife crises on Daddy or their first proper ballad with Chokehold, but more restrained, melodic playing doesn’t make up for the fact that they’re being delivered by a Danny Dyer impressionist with even less range. They even recruit Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell for backing vocals on the former, presumably to justify its gentle solo guitar, but that’s ultimately with no avail. At least the writing itself isn’t as insultingly asinine as repeating “The people that you meet / Walking down the street” ad nauseum (even if Cut And Run comes so, so close), but it’s hardly enough to redeem the rest of this totally mismanaged mess.
It’s honestly worth considering after this if there’s even any point in keeping up with Slaves anymore. They’ve had chance after chance to prove themselves and what they can do, and every single time they’ve managed to royally screw it up, to the point where this genuinely just feels like a joke at this point. The disappointing thing is that Acts Of Fear And Love could’ve been at least close to a return to form, but bad writing and worse execution only sets Slaves spiraling further and further into total irrelevancy. If they somehow manage to pull another chance from somewhere, they’ll be extremely lucky.
For fans of: Rat Boy, VANT, Jamie T
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Acts Of Fear And Love’ by Slaves is out now on Virgin EMI.