Whilst most bands struggle with that ‘difficult second album’, with a debut like Born To Ruin, it was always going to be that much harder for Crazy Arm. Just how do you follow up one of the best records released in years? Union City Breath, that’s how.
Opening with a wave of guitar that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Mastodon record, I wondered what I might be in for, but It wasn’t long before the slow, heavy, distorted, riff gave way and the slight notion of doubt disappeared. It became clear the guys had started where they left off and, as the album progressed, the fast paced guitars, fantastic vocals, and relentless pounding of drums worked in unison to create a sound that was unmistakably Crazy Arm. Not only that, but they’ve managed to improve on it, introducing more instrumentation and a second vocalist in the form of Vicky Butterfield. Resting on their laurels is something this band just don’t do.
Having kicked off with all the intensity of one of their live shows, it looked like a case of whiplash might be on the cards for anyone who dared listen to the record. That wasn’t to be as, like its predecessor, Union City Breath doesn’t need to go at a hundred miles an hour to be intense. Sure, the frantic guitars and crashing of cymbals help, but the lyrics play as big a role in this record’s power as how hard the band play. How do they do that? Let’s just say, if you don’t like your music with a political agenda, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
Attacks on right wing politics are a staple Union City Breath, but that’s not to say that the messages aren’t, for the most part, subtle. Like on Born To Ruin, the lyrics are fairly nuanced, with the majority of the band’s beliefs being expressed through clever use of metaphor. Though they’re not afraid of ruffling a few feathers either, and openly attack their opposition on a number of occasions. Though ‘The Right Wing Never Sleeps’ is one that sticks out immediately, ‘Song Of Choice’ is where the message comes to the forefront. The slightly updated version of the Peggy Seeger original, makes mention of the British National Party (and leader Nick Griffin) and the English Defence League in this impassioned song against racism – “Nazi scumbags must never take command/the BNP will never get to rule my land” is a line that particularly stands out, and there’s no message clearer than that.
Union City Breath is passion-filled, politically-driven, and unlike anything I’ve heard out of the UK punk scene since their last outing. What these guys do is so different from the majority of bands out there, and not just on a lyrical level. There’s no band out there, to my knowledge, that can go from doing a fast-paced punk song, to a folk song and then combine the two genres seamlessly. That’s not to say that the band, or this album, is perfect. There were times when some of the stuff on here fell a little flat and the lyrics might not have been up to scratch (the opening of ‘Charnel House Blues’ in particular). Whilst it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Union City Breath is one of the most interesting thought provoking albums of 2011, and one of my personal favourites.