January 8, 2018 Skids – Burning Cities (Album Review)
To the initiated, the Skids was one of the foundations of what many consider Post-Punk—the new wave of bands that emerged or evolved from the remnants of the Punk movement in the United Kingdom in the late ’70s.
Still driven by the anti-establishment, confrontational, and sonic energy of Punk music, but at the same time tired of the predictable three-chord song structures and often misdirected, angry lyrical sentiments of most of the genre’s instigators, these so-called Post-Punk pioneers produced some of the most engaging and arty, yet accessible, kind of music. Among Skids’ successful batchmates included Siouxsie & the Banshees (“Mirage”), The Cure (“Grinding Halt”), Simple Minds (“Life in a Day”), U2 (“I Will Follow”), PiL (“Public Image”), and Joy Division/New Order (“New Dawn Fades”/“Dreams Never End”).
Formed in 1977, in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, Skids released four full-lengths in their heyday—1979’s still punky yet big-sounding Scared to Dance and the same year’s more angular as well as Synthpop-driven Days in Europa; 1980’s The Absolute Game, the band’s finest work and which served as the springboard of the departing Stuart Adamson (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) for the sound of his next band, Big Country (“In a Big Country”); and 1981’s Joy, which saw the remaining members of Skids’ incorporating elements of Scottish Folk into their music. Then, in 1982, they disbanded. Consequently, Richard Jobson (lead vocals, guitars, keyboards) and Russell Webb (bass) formed The Armoury Show (“We Can Be Brave Again”), whereas Adamson had a headstart with Big Country, which he started long before the completion of Skids’ last album.
In 2007, Frontman Jobson, William Simpson (original bass player), and Mike Baillie (longtime drummer), along with Big Country’s Bruce Watson (guitar and backing vocals) and his son Jamie Watson (guitar), reformed Skids for a number of gigs to commemorate their thirtieth anniversary and to pay homage to the late Adamson, who died in 2001. More concerts ensued, but it took the revitalized group another decade before they found the time and energy to record a new album.
Now, Skids are ready to surprise both longtime fans and this generation’s enthusiasts of Alternative Rock/Punk/New Wave music, with the fruit of their decade-long return—the forthcoming Burning Cities.
Slated to be released on January 12, 2018, via NoBad, Skids’ fifth studio album is both a revisit to the band’s roots and a nod to the current state of Alternative Rock. It opens with the slow buildup yet assured confidence of “This Is Our World,” immediately setting the mood to Post-Punk proper after its piano-led prelude. The ensuing “One Last Chance” harked back to the bagpipe-guitar sound of early Skids and which became also the trademark of Big Country’s music. “Kaput” then transforms the dance floor to a mosh pit, with its slashing guitar lines, pistol-shot vocal delivery, and Psychobilly bass and drum beats.
The album’s first single, “A World on Fire” then looms large and prances proudly with its anthemic guitar melodies and Tribal drums. It sounds like a homage to the members’ past—Skids’ very own “Into the Valley,” Big Country’s “Fields of Fire,” and The Armoury Show’s “The Glory of Love.” The following title track finds Skids in their Rock-stomping predisposition, something that will please Bono and the rest of U2 (“Bullet the Blue Sky”). Another stadium-worthy, sing-along song comes next in the form of the fist-raised Punk attitude–reeking “Up on the Moors.”
A change of vibes, the sparse and cinematic “Refugees” is a throwback to Skids’ Celtic expedition in Joy, their last album. Then Skids unsettle the relaxing listener with the unexpected Punk blitzkrieg of “Subbotnik,” demanding overdue unpaid recognition. Another head-turning, relatively experimental track plays next – “Kings of the New World Order,” which combines Electropop and Guitar Rock elements; exuding whiffs of New Order’s “Crystal,” Bad Lieutenant’s “Sink or Swim,” Monaco’s “Under the Stars,” and Primal Scream’s “100% or Nothing.” With the penultimate “Into the Void,” the blazing band further skids and screeches into the muddy but melodic realms of Noise Rock; it will slide well onto a playlist that includes Sonic Youth’s “Bull in the Heather,” Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick,” Big Black’s “Kerosene,” and British Sea Power’s “Apologies to Insect Life.” Finally, Skids wrap up their scorching new offering with the contemplative balladry of “Desert Dust,” whose Appalachian sensibilities reconnect the band with its English-Scottish Folk roots.
The vitality of Burning Cities and the renewed vigor of Skids truly compensated for the thirty-seven years’ gap between this new album and its predecessor. It definitely re-establishes the band as one of the pillars of Post-Punk/New Wave music and reaffirms Skids’ rightful place in the history and development of the beloved music genres. CrypticRock gives Burning Cities 4 out of 5 stars.