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I’m an anarchist, I’m an antichrist. Well sort of. Not really.

10/07/2012

Talking about my formative bands, the music that made me, Chumbawamba wouldn’t get the top billing but they would probably crash the stage anyway. They didn’t revolutionise the way I consume and treat music nor did I ever become hopelessly obsessed with them, but they were always there from day one. I first heard Anarchy around the same time I started thinking of music as something more than a mere positive interest and I picked up other albums at a steady pace – there was always more Chumba around the corner waiting to be heard, no matter what I was into at the time. The albums I heard first are still closest to my heart, not only due to their musical merits but because of all the memories and associations tacked onto them over the years, but the more I’ve heard from the band the more I’ve had music to enjoy and surfaces to gather more memories on.

The inspiration for this small write-up, and the past tense used throughout, is the post that the band put up on their website this morning, announcing their split after 30 years of operation. It’s sort of hard to feel sad. Partly, arguably, because the last few albums haven’t really been up to scratch – ever since they decreased their member numbers and took on a far folkier route, that fire and wit they had for all the first few decades of their career seemed to get lost underneath pleasant smiles and slightly less memorable tunes. But no, the main reason is that Chumbawamba aren’t really a band you feel sad about. My automatic reaction whenever a band I love announces their split is to find some melancholy/depressed/soppy song they’ve done and play it on repeat for a while as a tacky way of processing the emotional impact.  Chumbawamba don’t even have those, the nostalgically happy “Home With Me” coming closest but not being quite cigar. Instead, you have fun. Sarcastic, venomously witty, devilishly biting, endlessly and lovingly self-depracating, surprisingly humorous, often quite serious when need be and occasionally angry fun, but fun nonetheless. So, rather than crying into my caramel syrup flavoured coffee, I’ve been bouncing on my chair and (badly) singing along every single word on the albums I love the most (and finding myself quite surprised that I actually do remember every single word to these albums, almost as if the songs have been permanently programmed into my brain). If there is a sadness to the band’s demise it’s realising how rather than being seen as one of the seminal 90s cult classic bands, in the eyes of music history they’re a bunch of one-hit-wonders who made that song about getting pissed and who have a U in the Wamba.

Partly because of that “legacy”, partly to give content for this post, partly to give me an excuse to avoid writing a proper final paragraph and partly to allow me to wade through the band’s history, beneath the cut are ten personal classic Chumba cuts. Click the links, listen to the music and reminisce a great, memorable career with me. The full stop has been inserted but everything before remains to be experienced over and over again.

HAPPINESS IS JUST A CHANT AWAY (Shhh, 1992)

As if the adorably perky and bouncy tune wasn’t enough, that outro that offers Chumba’s own take on the Hare Khrisna chant is something incredibly hilarious.

LOVE ME (Anarchy, 1994)

The title of this post is taken from this song: a take on the classic Sex Pistols line that turns the whole thing upside down, both raising it on the pedestal as well as pulling the carpet off its feet. Which describes a lot of Chumbawamba’s ethos fairly well, with their constant abusingly adoring relationship with mass media. It’s always been one of the oldest top Chumba tracks I’ve ever had, hitting me with full force from the first listen and still sounding as energetic and ass-kicking as ever, with Nobacon’s spitfire lyric delivery being one of my favourite Chumba vocal moments.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH (Anarchy, 1994)

When need be, Chumbawamba trade sneaky statements to straightforward anthems that say what needs to be said loud and clear. A collaboration with the British rap group Credit to the Nation, Enough Is Enough takes the bull by the horns and slams it to the ground with the help of a big guitar wall.

UGH! YOUR UGLY HOUSES! (Swingin’ With Raymond, 1995)

Chumbas started out as a punk band but the very early material isn’t particularly favoured by myself. Instead, this dose of slightly later but also excellent ChumbaPunk shall serve as a showcase of when the tempo gets high and the guitar takes over (now with a completely random, abrupt orchestral interlude). Sadly, the song’s music video seems to be AWOL from the internet.

THE GOOD SHIP LIFESTYLE (Tubthumper, 1997)

Poor Tubthumper. If Chumbawamba as a whole are judged by Tubthumping (a song which I actually like despite still feeling somewhat bitter towards it), the album that spawned it is probably even more – people see the first song on the tracklisting and run away. But as a piece of work it’s one of the band’s best and in a lot of ways one of their ultimate musical statements. It builds on everything the past albums brought to the table and offers it stronger than ever. Fitting for a big label debut that was about to briefly conquer the world’s radios, it sounds positively hungry for world domination and is brimmed with energy to take on everything that stands in front of it. The Good Ship Lifestyle is here for two reasons: one, to demonstrate its parent album and two, for the memories of listening to it during a midnight car drive through a sleepy city that have somehow been engraved to my head.

OUTSIDER (Tubthumper, 1997)

Throughout the 90s the Chumbas had a foot firmly in dance music, incorporating elements of it to back their anarcho-pop fairly frequently. Outsider is the most overt example of that. Structurally and lyrically a very simple and straightforward song but which explodes with a power of countless anthems as the chorus hits the airwaves.

SHE’S GOT ALL THE FRIENDS (WYSIWYG, 2000)

WYSIWYG is an impossible album to nutshell, even beyond the point that it’s actually really hard to find songs from it to link to on Youtube (this wasn’t my first choice, I admit freely). It’s a 22-song album that lasts a little beyond 40 minutes, bouncing around madly between short songs (this one, at three minutes, is downright near progressive rock standards compared to most of the album), bizarre interludes and sudden twists like an ADHD channelhopper. It’s their most pop album, filled with incredibly big hooks and sugar-sweet choruses but everything passes by so briefly that you could see it as a statement towards the fleeting nature of pop music. Under major label arms and having gotten briefly big with Tubthumping, WYSIWYG takes on pop culture, mass media and hit music and attacks against them with their very own rules. It may sound sweet but it constantly hovers a dagger behind your back. The incredibly, and knowingly, plastic happy-happy feel of She’s Got All the Friends is a prime example.

HOME WITH ME (Readymades, 2002)

They may excel in being subversive, but every now and then a simple song coming straight from the heart makes its way on the record. A love letter to times gone by, places seen and a life well lived.

REBEL CODE (Un, 2004)

I got Un, the band’s final full lineup album and the first experimental shot at the folk influences that would eventually take over, one hot and sunny summer. A lot of the album’s songs are associated with those summer days for me, but “Rebel Code”‘s season is winter and the moment that comes to mind is one late night/wee hours of morning where the song played on repeat through my headphones as I stared at the snowy world through a window nearby. A beautiful song that once again shows how sometimes Chumbas can tap onto something genuinely rather graceful. And it gets some additional plus points from me for being essentially a song about Finns, taking its inspiration from our small nation standing up against the great powers, first in form of molotov cocktails during foreign occupation and numerous years later as pieces of Linux code going against corporation OSs.

WALKING INTO BATTLE WITH THE LORD (A Singsong and a Scrap, 2006)

A cappella songs are a long and cherished part of the Chumba history. This almost hymnal moment from their first full-on folk album is one of my personal favourites.

Thanks for all the fun.

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