It’s always a tricky one to write an impartial review on a band you’ve loved almost from the start of their career. There is no other band on the planet I’ve seen more times than The Levellers, and to hear they are now at their 30th anniversary makes me feel quite old…..
And its to mark this milestone that they have decided to rework some of their back-catalogue with a more acoustic set-up, and with the help of a string section. Now going acoustic is obviously something the band have done numerous times in their career – however with the added orchestration and a real push on re-imagining these songs – it provides the seasoned Levellers fan with something to get their teeth in to, and something to open the mind somewhat.
And from the off – that’s exactly what you need to do, for hearing the usually blistering ‘Exodus‘ played only on strings, with Mark Chadwick’s punk tinged vocal sitting on top is a shock to the system that takes best part of the entire song to get over! Does it work? Well – on first listen I wasn’t convinced…however get tuned in to what the strings are actually doing, and in particular the lower cello stabs which guide the track – and you realise it’s actually brilliant!
‘Liberty‘ is similarly interesting – far enough away from the original, but still recognisable. There is however still an element of oddness that a track which is so pivotal as a proper raucous jumping crowd pleaser in their live sets is so chilled here…..however it works, and is testament to the quality of the song that it can be reinterpreted in this way.
My favourite on the record is the new version of ‘Elation‘ – originally on the Mouth to Mouth album. Simon Friend as a vocalist is hugely underrated and while the version on here doesn’t stray too far from the original, which in itself is quite an ambient track – his vocal now over 20 years since that album is more weathered, which seems to add further emotion to the track. The addition of some really interesting female vocal lines towards the end is a nice touch also – it’s really very atmospheric.
Not everything works – ‘England My Home‘ I don’t think quite makes the transition from folk rock stomper to laid back acoustic track, and ‘Hope Street‘ is another that, while this version is perfectly acceptable as it’s a great song, doesn’t immediately stand out from the pack.
I will however go on record as saying that – as discussed earlier, being a fan of over 20 years probably does cloud my judgement somewhat. It would be interesting to play this record to someone unfamiliar with the band to see which tracks stand out for them.
Two new tracks are also on offer here – both decent numbers, and as you would expect both with political undertones – ‘The Shame‘ being my favoured of the two, which examines the current refugee crisis.
It’s a strange record to sum up this. It’s certainly one for the fans to add to their collection, and hear some familiar tracks reworked – but I suspect it’s a record that would stand up as a decent listen for someone less familiar with the material. While not everything quite hits the spot, the tracks that do are utterly brilliant – and huge credit needs to be given to the band for attempting a re-working like this.
Review by Phil Daniels