Believe In Armitage Shanks

Now, listen. Looking at the back catalogue and the liberal sprinkling of toilet humour that the band employ, you might be forgiven for thinking that Armitage Shanks are some sort of 'funny' punk band. They don't take themselves too seriously, that's for sure, but one listen to this album and you're left in no doubt that they're far from a joke. Armitage Shanks have made something quite lovely, a contemporary punk album that's relevant, exciting and surprisingly dark and urban. If you have no time for garage punk then you'll hate this, but for everyone else, this is quite essential. Actually, punk has too many negative connotations to truly describe this as punk; it's more hardcore rock 'n' roll for jumping about too - A more brutal version of The Who, if you will, all chugging riffs and crashing drums. 

The real charm of this album is to be found in Dick Scum's vocals. Again, it's not punk in a post-modern sense of the word, cos you can hear every single word clearly. Scum's delivery is of that classic 'bloke in the pub' football chant style - this is punk of the sort that was coming out in 1976 rather than 1979; think Sham 69 rather than The Exploited and you're sort of there. Scum's vocals are perhaps best heard in the opening trackDrowning Not Waving, it's an anthem of a song with a great chorus that goes - "I'm drowning, but you think I'm waving/So you just wave back at me-ee" and delivered with charm, menace and feeling. It's the sort of thing no one has any business putting out in 2004, but there it is, and it's like a breath of fresh air. Further proof of the vocal talents of Mr. Scum can be found on 14th Floor, which tells of the isolation, boredom and despair experienced by the residents of tower blocks - "I've lived here now for seven years/And I don't know anyone/I think the bloke next door is a Jamaican/But he could be an Irishman". It's delivered in a singsong, soft sort of delivery and works extremely well. 

Enough of the vocals, for there is more to this album than that; the music rattles along at a cracking pace as you'd expect, but there's more to this than guitar riffs. There's even some quite brilliant guitar solos going on here as well, that have no place on a punk album, but fit in here like a glove. Just when you thought you had the album sussed, Rod Vomit is capable of surprising you with a cracking little guitar break. You Owe Me has a lovely dirty, little wah-wah lite guitar break. Incidentally, You Owe Me is where some of the humour can be found - it's about a tight person - "Presents from the sales!/Furniture from skips!" declares Scum, disgust in his voice. There's some nice covers on here as well, the Isaac Hayes' penned Hold On I'm Coming has never sounded so brutal. You also get a surprisingly subtle cover of The Who's Circles as well. What more do you want? All right, the title track, Urinal Heap is a great instrumental that sounds like The Shadows on acid. 

Armitage Shanks have proved themselves with this album to be something of an institution over the years. It's not going to set the charts on fire, nor will they feature on the front of any magazines with it, but for that growing number of people who find themselves wishing for a little bit of brutal guitar music with attitude, humour and style, then we can say only this - Believe in Armitage Shanks. 

Karl Wareham
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