It’s no secret the Levellers are one of my favorite bands. Their previous album “Letters From The Underground” was fantastic and brought back a bit of their aggro folk punk selves from earlier years. I’m happy to say Static On The Airwaves is just as awesome but in a different way.
The band seems to go through slight changes each album. I like how we get something a bit different with each album; it keeps our interest peaked. Truth and Lies was more rock with distorted production, Letters from the Underground was more speedy folk punk, and Static on the Airwaves is a little bit of traditional folk meets alternative rock. Just with the opening tracks, you can tell this is going to be a different Levs album. You hear radio static / noise on “Static On The Airwaves”, some ominous singing from Mark with chanting in the background. It makes you think of a totalitarian state that is broadcasting out into the streets.
The intro then has some Tron-esque computerized notes playing and then blends into the next track “We Are All Gunmen.” Simon Friend leads this song and it took me a few listens to truly appreciate its greatness. Once you hear that chorus, you’ll be singing it to yourself in no time. “We are gunmen of, guardians of the watchtowers, lighting up the beacons, to bring our riders home.” I particularly like one part of the song where the fiddle or just the overall song goes like “BEEE-UUUU.” You’ll know what I’m talking about when you hear the song.
“Truth Is” was the first song we heard off the new album and it’s just an excellent Levellers song. It’s clearly one of the highlights of Static On The Airwaves. I’m really looking forward to hearing this live, along with many more new tracks in November when I fly over to London. “After The Hurricane” is next and it’s a slower Levellers song that showcases Mark’s slower singing style, Simon’s banjo playing and Matt’s piano playing. The Levellers are one of the few bands I like, that can get it right with fast & slow songs and have them be equally as good. Matt’s piano shines through again later on the track “Traveller” as well.
While “After The Hurricane” showcases Matt’s piano playing, “Our Forgotten Towns” showcases Jon’s fiddle playing. Rapid fire fiddle playing is how I would describe it. The track is about all the shopping centres & other stores closing down, and pretty much leaving the towns helpless, hopeless or deserted. To continue, I really enjoyed “No Barriers” because it reminded me of earlier Levellers material. Something off Zeitgeist or Mouth to Mouth maybe? I also liked the distorted/chug chug chug on the guitar as well. It’s the little things like that make any Levellers album interesting to me. Not to mention the songs contain some brilliant lyrics.
Towards the end, the album loses a little bit of steam but ends on a strong note with “Second Life” and “The Recruiting Sergeant.” That’s not to say the songs towards the end aren’t good, they are, but I prefer the other tracks to “Mutiny” and “Traveller.” There’s something to take away from each track on this album. If I had to pick a second favorite track, it would probably be “Second Life.” Talk about a song that sounds like something off Levelling the Land. It’s an extremely catchy song that is about the game Second Life, but also about other ways people escape their real lives. The song is so good I even made it into a ringtone already haha.
The final track on the album is “The Recruiting Sergeant.” This was another song fans got to see/hear a little early since the band posted the recording session on YouTube. They recorded the album (or maybe just this song?) as a whole band instead of piece by piece. In this case, they recorded the song with Czech folk band Divokej Bill. This is probably their most traditional folkish song in a very long time or ever. It seems like a song that would be perfect to sing around a campfire or on a ship. The Levellers have been dipping their feet into shanty territory lately but this album they finally do more than one song in that style.
This review is very long (for my standards) so I’ll just end with that this is an awesome follow-up to Letters From The Underground. It took me a few listens to appreciate the majority of these songs and think Levellers fans will be happy with the final result. I have been listening to this album everyday for about a month now. I haven’t gotten sick of the album so that’s good at least haha. Many of the tracks should become live favorites as well, but only if the band decides to play them. As much as I love tracks from Levelling the Land, think its time to shelve some of the tracks and break out a bunch of news one come November time. If you want more tracks than the normal album, the deluxe edition contains 2 additional tracks, Truth Is music video and a half hour video on the making of the album.
Bottom Line: An excellent follow-up to Letters From The Underground!
Notable Tracks: We Are All Gunmen, Truth Is, After the Hurricane, No Barriers, Raft of the Medusa, Second Life
Listen to a sample of the album: