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Thursday, May 07, 2009

CD Review: Subhumans - From the Cradle to the Grave reissue

Subhumans - From the Cradle to the Grave reissue
2008 Southern Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Somewhere in the course of punk's rebirth, disenfranchised future proletariats have been left to grouse in isolation, namely the frightened youth heaped with the burden of carrying society on their strong yet suspicious shoulders. Where is the band to hail their quietly-panicked voices, particularly in a world growing more complex by the year?

Just as you will hear the baby boomers and those within reach of that generation make comment we live in such a politically correct society we've lost our sense of humor at cost, so too has punk rock traded its responsibility towards watchdogging society at the cost of being either mallrat effervescent or conservatively strong-in-numbers.

The Subhumans have somehow in the course of history been forgotten for their contributions to not only punk rock but for being champions of the free-thinking anti-establishment youth brigade. Though most people familiar with the Subhumans know their most-popular album The Day the Country Died, much of what the rest of this intelligent and boundary-pushing group created bears even more substance.

A good friend of mine correctly noted the Subhumans gave punk rock two of its "most amazing albums," those being 1985's Worlds Apart and 1983's From the Cradle to the Grave. The former might've been the album which changed the tide from the Sex Pistols' carefree gutter swine screech to a more artistic yet driving mode with which to deliver their sociologically poignant messages warning against selling yourself out to the soul-grinding machine.

Worlds Apart is hypothetically the catalyst for what All, Government Issue, Uniform Choice and ultimately Fugazi would drift towards sound-wise. From the Cradle to the Grave, however, is still a Subhumans in somewhat raw form yet they were already ascending towards a deeper extraction of near anti-punk theory to include punctuated reverb and progressive swings, largely on the 17-minute title track. A punk rock epic? How absurd, you might think, but sit down and listen to Dick Lucas outlay a prolonged examination of the birth-to-death process--as if the Subhumans hadn't already joyously thrown down at their listeners earlier in the album with the Buzzcocks-kissed story-of-your-life, "Waste of Breath."

Almost never since has such depth been attempted in punk rock as what the Subhumans accomplished with "From the Cradle to the Grave" which is a bit of a genre take on Catch-22. The scared youth grows up under governmental control (i.e. school and religion), according to Lucas, and is forced on a course of conformity which finds his muse courted by the establishment to join rank--in this case a literal one in the form of the army. With lyrics spanning three pages, the Subhumans cast their most venomous indictment against controlled order, positing at "From the Cradle to the Grave's" conclusion that allowing yourself to be dictated begins the cycle anew for the ensuing generation.

This is mind-blowing stuff, particulary for the early eighties in the midst of continued threat of a nuclear holocaust. In this sense, consider the Subhumans one of the genuine Cold War bands who did their part to coax the youth not to fall into the traps leading to annihilation. Changing the modes of musical attack from ripping hardcore velocities to alternative rock chugs and strums and swaying ska (you can count on every Subhuman album to bear at least one ska-reggae tune like their more commercially popular kindred The Police), "From the Cradle to the Grave" is punk rock's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," or psychedelic rock's "Monster" (ala Steppenwolf) only the Subhumans focused their energies towards changing the course of humankind's dialed inclination to destroy at will by the provocation of the government.

The Subhumans have always been considered an anarchy band, yet if you dissect their lyrics and take a good bit of what they say to heart, you will find this band to be one of the most well-meaning of its ilk. Yeah, "Waste of Breath" is insulting in nature with its attack on posers, but in the same breath, the Subhumans serve up "Us Fish Must Swim Together," which rings louder than anything contemporary hardcore's "unity" decrees have to offer. "You need support to keep you alive, us fish must swim together," so says Dick Lucas and he's spot-on. Even us lone wolves who reject the mainstream (as the Subhumans most assuredly do) need to recognize it's going to take cooperation with the mainstream and especially with its own in order to move this world forward into the hands of the next youth who hopefully won't need to make the terrifying decision to enlist with the state, which will forge their hands into harbingers of destruction.

As socially-conscious as any punk band receiving its proper due, the Subhumans deserve far more credit than they're given. As From the Cradle to the Grave rockets through the first batch of songs with wonderfully dizzying and melodic aplomb (such as the blitzed speed representing the inflicted chaos of our hurried world on "Reality is Waiting For a Bus"), its ultimate purpose with the title song is to serve as a bible for the alienated youth and those coming into question what their future purpose is. It's amazing an album almost three decades old contains such far-reaching wisdom...

Rating: ****1/2


bob_vinyl said...

This is a truly great album and it really transcends punk. It's politically vehement and musically bold. It's so rare to find a record whose heart and ambition lie in the right place, but this is certainly one, along with their next album, Worlds Apart. They were thoroughly punk and yet never found themselves limited by any of punk's rules. Their late albums are still feel fresh too, which is an amazing feat for any band.

The RIpple Effect said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes! All I can say is, yes


Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Ripple, I'd say that was an affirmative? Stay tuned for more Subhumans coming yer way here...

Bob, I agree you wholly with these comments and those we traded by email. Quite important bodies of work.