THIN ICE by THE BRINGERS OF CHANGE
BRINGING CHANGE THROUGH RHYTHM AND GROOVE
Once upon a time, in a land faraway, where music had not been corporatised, commodified, and formularised, people sometimes spoke about 'concept' albums and 'protest' songs. Here we have an album whose concept is protest. And not merely a narrow protest about this or that issue, but an articulate cry against alienation and loss of Self in late capitalist society. The Bringers of Change - Mark Dunn, Tim Jones, John Simms, Maxine Marten, and Barry Mart - have presented us with a manifesto.
The album opens with VOICE ON THE RADIO, at first sounding scarily like a scene from Twin Peaks and pointing us towards a modern dystopia, where social control is assured by means of the propagandising media. A moving spoken lyric then follows a strong - and surprisingly pretty - electronic theme and tells us that we need to think things over. Have we not learned from our past mistakes? What are the world’s governments really doing? And why? “There are people who really want to know what’s going down.” Then, we are straight into another of the album’s central themes: the need for individuals to be freed from the ubiquitous restrictions that deny them the chance to RISE AND SHINE. Here, the lyrics themselves rise and shine on a wave of throbbing bass, snappy percussion, and declamatory guitar.
Sitting at the physical and sonic heart of the album is PRISONERS OF THE REAL WORLD (Parts 1, 2, and 3), a conceptual triptych that opens with the sounds of a tropical forest before going into a strong, jazzy groove with a great guitar riff. References to ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy) hammer home the idea that our minds are being controlled, our access to our own reality restricted, and an ersatz “reality” - that of the “real world” - imposed on our consciousness. There is also the sneaky suggestion - "...I like that" - that we may all be colluding with this control and, consequently, our loss of volition. Taken together, these three tracks speak about boredom, breakdown, and befuddlement. The compelling lyrics, driven by percussion, horns, bass and guitar, take us to an ultimate offering of hope - "We'll find a way out of the darkness" - and we are again surrounded by the sounds and atmosphere of nature. These three tracks take us on a journey from an earlier time of natural, free living, through the alienation of modern life, and into the fulfilment of the earlier optimism where we emerge, once again wreathed in the sounds of freedom. It seems to add up to a call to consciousness and - whisper it - revolution.
TAKE ME OUT is a funky track that opens with a jazz piano, followed by more tight guitar. The lyrics tell a powerful tale of lost potency crying out to be regained. It’s a dramatic story of loneliness and helplessness leading to the prospect of suicide amidst a longing for change: take me out, to the gig, on the bike, diving in the sky, out of this misery, out of life, - and to freedom. Musically, the track stands out because of its compelling groove and stunning guitar.
The message of the album includes the warning that we are skating on THIN ICE, and the title track begins with what sounds like a long, slow, frosty sigh, and continues in that vein both lyrically and musically. The interplay between percussion and guitar create an overall impression of yearning, like the yearning we can hear in whale song, as we are told that we have been sold down the river and that all we have left to us is choice. Which inevitably leads to the question, WHY DO WE DO WHAT WE DO? Musically compelling, pushed along by Mark Dunn's driving bass, and topped off with guitar, Tim Jones’ masterfully-delivered lyric links back, thematically, to the idea that we are all complicit in our own confusion. And then we revisit the musical theme - WHY DO WE DO WHAT WE DO (Slight Return) - with a deconstruction and up-funking of what went before. A pulsating guitar bounces atop drums and bass, organ, and even the hint of more horns. All as tight as the proverbial gnat's fundament.
On STANDING MAN, penned by Mark Dunn and calling for “truth and justice”, the flute makes a suddenly wonderful appearance. A lovely tune, holding up a strong lyric, benefits in no small measure from the backing vocals of Maxine Marten and, as elsewhere on the album, syncopated percussion, before TAKE ME OUT AGAIN, the instrumental revisiting of the earlier track, gives us a positive, thrusting sound, driving along in a funky groove. The track begins with the sound of an alarm clock. So, the final call of the album is for us to wake up. WAKE UP!
Yes, this is what we used to call a concept album. In its wail against the fractured, dishonest, exploitative nature of modern life - expressed through exceptionally delivered lyrics, and a relentless groove - there is a call to redemptive struggle and for us to change everything.
Quite irrespective of its profound message, this is a fine album that rewards multiple hearings, perhaps as anyone familiar with the previous work of those involved might expect. It is musically and lyrically delicious. When I was listening for the first time I wrote down a few words: "Groovy. Funky. Rich. Immersive. Lyrical." I guess that's it.
Poet and lyricist
(The wordy part of ReidGraves www.reidgraves.com)