It’s been 6 years since the last Levellers album but they are back with an interesting new one, We The Collective. The band is celebrating 30 years so they have done something a bit different. It was recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios, produced by legendary producer John Leckie (Stone Roses, Muse, Radiohead) and it contains 8 classics that have been reworked and stripped down. Included on the album are 2 brand tracks as well. Added to the band’s signature sound is a string section, which definitely adds to the songs. There’s also a 4-song bonus CD in the deluxe edition, so if you’re a diehard fan like myself than that’s the one to get.
I’ve been waiting a long time for a new album from The Levs. Their last album, Static on the Airwaves, was excellent and one of the best they’ve released. I was hoping for another album similar to that, all new original material and rowdy folk punk that I’ve loved over the years. This isn’t quite what I expecting but it’s a new album from the band and I’ll take anything I can get at this point. I guess having something unexpected is a good thing in this day and age when it comes to music. You do the same over and over, it starts to get stale. With all that said, I’m really digging the reworkings of some of these songs.
When you put the album on, you already can tell this is a different type of Levellers album with the first track, “Exodus.” The string instruments dominate until Mark comes in to sing his verses. The band has reworked these songs over so much that they really don’t sound like the originals all that much. At times I had to look up the track to see which song was playing. “Liberty” is one of the first Levellers song I listened to when I got into the band and besides the lyrics, the song is unrecognizable. Mark sings slowly, Jon’s fiddle playing isn’t speedy fast like on the original, there’s banjos in it and foot stomping choruses. It almost reminds me of a song to sing on a chain gang with the way they stripped this down and composed the song.
The cover of “Subvert” is definitely a highlight on this album. Simon manages to bring out the aggro vocals, while the strings are moving fast in the background. It’s like if a string quartet discovered punk. When everybody screams “Subvert,” mixed in with the drum beat and stomping, it makes for a great song. On various tracks, female vocalist Laura Kidd (She Makes War) chimes in during the choruses and i’m loving it! I wouldn’t be oppose if the band added another member and it was her. Would give the band another dynamic for future releases, that’s for sure.
“Hope Street” is one of the few songs that sounds similar to the original, just slightly changed around here and there. “Elation” is perhaps one of my best songs to showcase in this type of stripped down format. This version is just haunting. I still get goosebumps whenever I heard that didgeridoo. Simon’s vocals are particularly amazing on this track and I really like the keyboard (or is it the harpsichord?) playing by Matt. There are two new songs, one sung by Simon and the other by Mark. Simon’s “The Shame” is a powerful acoustic song about the refugee crisis in Europe and all over. Watching the music video for it, it certainly brings a tear to my eye and that we all can do better.
“Drug Bust McGee” is another strong track about undercover police and the effects of that, with incredible vocals by Mark and Laura. Laura’s parts in the songs really stand out, such a beautiful singing voice. The band’s most notable song in their catalog, “One Way,” finishes out the album in fine fashion. It’s been cool to see how the song has evolved and been reworked over the 25 years. During their live shows, it seems the song has been played faster than in the past. On We The Collective, it’s stripped down a bit. Lots of percussion type of things to create the sound. Is that pint glasses and spoons that I heard? It’s a different take on the song but nothing will ever top the original version.
We The Collective is a unique way of reworking the band’s previous material and offering a different take on fan favorites. As much as I like this album, I still would have preferred a brand new, full-length of political punky folk songs. With all the political bullshit going on my side of the pond and their side as well, I could really use some new anarchist folk punk songs. That’s not to say these songs aren’t relevant, they are more relevant now than when they were originally written. I’m sure the band will have plenty of new material to write about with Trump, Brexit, May and other things in the news. So can that new album be released by the end of the year?
Bottom Line: Unique reworking of classic Levs songs but would have preferred all new original songs
Notable Tracks: England My Home, Subvert, Hope Street, Elation, The Shame, Drug Bust McGee, One Way