Review: Alabama 3 – Shoplifting 4 Jesus
Published on February 29th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The buzz… Brixton’s finest exponents of acid-gospel-rock-hop (yes, that’s the best we could come up with) return with ninth album, inspired by last summer’s London riots, on their own Hostage Music label. Front man Larry Love described the album as…
The sound of middle England’s worst nightmare, a celebration of all that is dynamic in club culture, and a finger on the pulse of those on the wrong side of the tracks. Everyone is fearful of kids today, of hoodies. Perhaps if we just stopped and listened to them a bit more, we wouldn’t be.
The album’s got another kind of theme running through it: a biblical feel, but it’s the Bible-as-Communist manifesto, which is why we thought it would be a good idea to get a few voices reading passages from the good book throughout.
Said few voices? Only crime writer Martina Cole, Happy Mondays dancer/K-hole impersonator Bez and half-time flutter advocate Ray Winstone.
Of the various “deliberately stolen riffs” (from the likes of George Harrison, Warren Zevon, Hawkwind, EPMD and Status Quo) used across the record, he said:
What we’ve done is very much in the jazz tradition, and with full love and respect for all the artists concerned. It’s effectively us giving the nod to our contemporaries, our idols… The only original thing on this LP is the barcode. Bring on the litigants and the lawyers.
“We Stole the Moon”
Sounds like… An enthrallingly sleazy representation of London as a microcosm of a turbulent planet, with all the sure-footed genre-hopping and exhortations of spirituality set to suggestively seedy backdrops that we’ve come to expect from these reliable old hands.
To say that Shoplifting 4 Jesus is unmistakably an Alabama 3 album is not to put it down; the niche they’ve carved for themselves remains a rich source of delightfully squalid pop gold, and this latest outing is perhaps their boldest and most colourful to date.
Opener “Have You Been Having a Nightmare?” sets the scene in consummate fashion, Ray Winstone delivering a grizzly Bible reading amidst a claustrophobically monged soundscape, before his command to “kill ‘em all” – a refreshing change from “place yer bets, nah!”, it must be said – gives way to uplifting synth strings and a vocodered voice warbling something about “Elvis Presley freaks”. The doleful, gospel-tinged chorus refrain is really quite gorgeous, so much so that it even manages to accommodate a children’s nursery rhyme without sounding at all eerie (well, maybe slightly). That’s a lot packed into the opening three minutes, and it’s a sure-fire indicator of what to expect; many different things, that is.
“I Blame Kurt Cobain” creeps lasciviously through a malevolent haze, even stopping to remind us that said deceased icon “blew his head right off his shoulders”, while the attitudinal delivery of “we’re from the south of the bridge, where the guns and the violence and the cannabis lives” gets the hoodie paranoia out in the open.
Bez is the next to read from the good book, paving the way for “We Stole the Moon”, the kind of lightly euphoric, acid-house-tinged singalong that Alabama 3 have always scattered so well amongst the murkiness, before “It’s About That Time” stakes a convincing claim for inclusion on anyone’s party playlist with a serving of funky hip-hop that continues the sudden vibe of revelry. A strong and perfectly sequenced first third of an album, then.
“It’s About That Time”
“I’ve Been Seeing Stars (Ain’t Seen the Light)” sees Larry gruffly and catchily proclaiming “I could have been a contender”, lamenting a spiritual weathering as “death by cop, death by cigarette, death by whiskey, death by woman”, “Wrong is Right” sounds like the paranoid comedown to “It’s About That Time”…and then comes the big centrepiece…
“Saved” is an instant classic, its intro of a weary and reverbed harmonica sighing gently over jangly country guitar sounding ready-made for TV and film synching (as unpalatable as that may be to the purists), and its lighters-in-the-air chorus of “Will you be saved by the Devil?/Will you be saved by the Lord?/Will you make it through to midnight?/Will you be gone before the dawn?” seeming destined for crowd-pleaser status. “Saved” sounds like the contemplative trudge of a weary travelling cowboy, and it would appear well-placed to take up permanent residence in whatever part of your brain it is that regurgitates songs from your past at the behest of whatever tenuous stimulus.
Twangy slide guitar meets throbbing bass squiggles on “Facebook.Con” (“I have twenty-five thousand friends, all I wanna do is disappear”), “Black Dog” is an arrestingly beautiful little number that plays host to the “hallelujah” refrain of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, “Summer in the City” rides in on a slyly smooth beatbox before showcasing another euphoric gospel chorus (“Long, cold, lonely winter/Someday soon change gonna come”), while the superbly titled “Who the Fuck is John Sinclair?” welds a vaguely baggy beat onto funky electro, managing to end up sounding like what might happen if Tom Waits contributed guest vocals to an Outkast tune.
At just under seven-and-a-half minutes, “Let’s Go Out 2Nite” is comfortably the longest track on the album, and its exhortation of going out “in a blaze of glory” is done justice by the triumphant disco butterfly that eventually emerges from the sweetly fingerpicked acoustic cocoon of its opening five minutes, before closer “Abide With Me” brings the curtain down in suitably introspective fashion, underlining all that went before it with an atmospheric tenderness that sounds like an appeal for calm and togetherness in these crazy, seedy, precarious, riot-laden, social media-obsessed.
“Summer in the City”
In short… Alabama 3 sounding brighter and dare I say it poppier than ever before, yet still every bit as eclectic and shady as you’d expect. A resounding success.
If this album was the unintended product of that teleportation machine out of The Fly, its constituent entrants would be… Tom Waits and Snoop Dogg