2009 has been a big year for British punk legends The Slits. In addition to being the 30th anniversary of the release of their landmark debut album Cut on Island Records, this Tuesday marks the band’s release of Trapped Animal on Narnack Records—their first full-length release in 25 years. This new record features the 2005 reformed Slits lineup, with original Slits Ari Up and Tessa Pollitt along with newcomers Anna Schulte, Adele Wilson and Hollie Cook (daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook).
The Slits have never been able to limit themselves to one genre of music, and Trapped Animal is no exception. The first few tracks are a hectic dance party, with the enthusiastic call and response vocals and punctuating horns of “Ask Ma,” the dancehall riddims of “Lazy Slam,” the hand drums and electronic dance beats of “Pay Rent” and the punk fury of “Reject.” From there—with the exception of the decidedly experimental bent of title track “Trapped Animal”— the album seems to be an exercise in reggae: “Partner From Hell” and “Babylon” are pure dub, while “Cry Baby” is more of a lovers rock ballad and “Reggae Gypsy” incorporates Eastern European melodies and instruments.
First single “Ask Ma” is a great ambassador for the rest of the album. The song typifies the album’s delicate balance of sounding polished and modern without compromising the wild, unpredictable quality The Slits’ music has always had: The Slits sing in their classic back and forth vocal style over distorted synthesizers, electronic drums and a tight horn section create a slinky, almost dangerous beat that would sound at home on an M.I.A. album.
Another standout is the title track “Trapped Animal.” The lyrics deal with how the world’s modern conveniences have actually trapped people. The sharp tempo changes and layers of screaming and shouting over vocals that alternate between frantic and calm give the impression of a caged animal trying to free itself. Looking at life in a different cage, is the song “Peer Pressure.” While the track might not be the most exciting song on the album, it is probably one of the most authentic songs ever written on the topic: The lyrics address the pressure young girls have heaped upon them by friends, parents, teachers and society and the feelings of depression, anxiety and alienation these pressures can cause. The song ends with the statement, “I want more out of life than to just survive. ”
Through changing band members and trends, The Slits have remained steadfastly themselves. While the band embraces modernity on Trapped Animal, a clear line can be drawn between their new release and Cut. Not to say that they are rehashing old material. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The Slits managed to create a new and innovative record while still retaining the tongue-in-cheek wit and in-your-face genre bending sound that their fans fell in love with. Calling Trapped Animal a “reunion record” cheapens what is definitely one of the best albums released this year. Hopefully, fans won’t have to wait another 25 years for the next one.
Pre-order Trapped Animal on CD here.
Pre-order Trapped Animal on vinyl here.
Purchase the “Ask Ma” single on iTunes here.