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The Levellers - Letters From The Underground

The Levellers, Letters From The Underground

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

BY THEIR own admission, The Levellers’ new album, Letters From The Underground, is a consciously political offering. And with songs including Burn America Burn and Accidental Anarchist, it could well get them noticed once more.

The LP marks their first collection of new work in four years and the first through their own label, On The Fiddle. But while it doesn’t shy away from incendiary point-making – tackling everything from Darfur and the war on terror – it’s a little too one note to really be capable of widespread appeal.

Wearing its Celt-rock origins on its sleeve, and placing Jon Sevink’s fiddle firmly to the foreground of every track, it’s certainly an album that bears all the familiar Levellers’ hallmarks. But there’s a nagging suspicion that they needed to broaden that sound to really make people (or rather newcomers) listen to what they have to say.

In promoting the album, for instance, the band describe the political nature of the songs “not as a manifesto… but as a reaction to apathy – something we’re all guilty of”.

They add: “The songs on the album are observations on topics including war, the media, government, betrayal, life choices and broken dreams.”

But while having plenty to say, the first three tracks tend to set the standard – blasting their way out of the stereo at full throttle and really forcing the listener to have to strain to keep up.

Former single Before The End, though, does at least mark a break from the norm and an easy-to-pick album highlight. It’s arguably the closest The Levellers have ever come to writing a love song. With the insistent, pounding drums, Velvet Underground-style violin and shadowy female backing vocals this song boasts a certain sexiness not usually associated with them or their anthemic folk-punk songs.

Singer, Mark Chadwick, belts out an enormous heartfelt chorus, with lyrics including “just one kiss to build a dream upon”, and succeeds in making The Levellers seem contemporary and even vital once again.

Another highlight immediately follows, in the form of the incendiary Burn America Burn, which finds Sevink again on fine form, and the guitars making an equal impact, as Chadwick vents his frustration at US foreign tactics.

Behold A Pale Rider, by virtue of its provocative observations on the 7/7 bombings, is also another to look out for and really listen to.

But such moments are the exception to the rule and, sadly, The Levellers find themselves a little too rooted in one sound to really broaden the album’s appeal. Lyrically, they’ve never been more astute; they just need to shake the format up a little more. Fans, though, will probably hail the emotive return and appreciate that the passionate fires still burn.

Download picks: Before The End, Burn America Burn, Behold A Pale Rider

Track listing:

  1. Cholera Wall
  2. Death Loves Youth
  3. Eyes Wide
  4. Before The End
  5. Burn America Burn
  6. Heart Of The Country
  7. Behold A Pale Rider
  8. Life Less Ordinary
  9. Accidental Anarchist
  10. Duty
  11. Fight Or Flight