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Friday, May 08, 2009

CD Review: Subhumans - Worlds Apart reissue

Subhumans - Worlds Apart reissue
2008 Southern Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Rare is the album of any genre which achieves not just one but two high standards of excellence and in turn becomes a pivotal recording of its time. Icing on the cake is when said album stands the test of time on the values of unyielding passion and lyrical integrity.

UK punk legends the Subhumans enjoyed a marathon run from the early to mid eighties courtesy of explosive counterculture music redefining the genre in grossly understated modes. Understated when you consider their most-recognized body of work 1982's The Day the Country Died is one of hardcore's earliest prototypes from which it prospered underground through the eighites in the future company of JFA, Agnostic Front, Youth of Today and The Exploited.

The mark of true genius comes in evolution. Thus the Subhumans would have to be considered gifted beyond words to initiate a hypogeal riot of social conscience set to the agitated expedition of their early EPs and The Day the Country Died, only to leave that school of thought immediately behind thereafter.

For this writer's purposes, hearing the adverse direction DC punk stalwarts Government Issue took from the ear-scraping Boycott Stabb to the more melodic upswing of You and Crash was a prime example of savvy reinvention, a maneuver naturally staked out ahead of them courtesy of the Subhumans by the time they released From the Cradle to the Grave and their scene-altering masterpiece, Worlds Apart.

As the Subhumans snugly propped themselves upon the soapbox for societal overhaul during their boisterous career, they became not only more proficient with their asphalt-cracked and chain-fenced preachery, but wowzers, what ardent musicians they became as of Worlds Apart in 1985!

Very few punkers were fielding what the Subhumans bravely--and energetically--stamped down upon the punk scene with the completion of Worlds Apart. Some may argue the sheer ferocity of The Day the World Ended is the true sound of the Subhumans. Certainly the global destruction fear factor lingering over The Day the World Ended makes its own proposal as deciding when the Subhumans were at their best.

Undeniably the thumb-empowered Cold War made the Subhumans their most abrasive and alarming with The Day the World Ended, yet considering the slew of hardcore bands trailing after the Subhumans and other early pioneers, this writer would submit the about-face you hear on Worlds Apart is far more urgent in nature. Listen to the opening bars of aggrandizing commotion of "Carry On Laughing" for evidence.

Though nowhere near as fast save for a wonderful speedy breakaway after two-thirds of steady bump on "Heads of State," Worlds Apart nonetheless moves paces beyond mid-tempo (and with dozens of unpredictable time signature swaps, to-boot) for darned near the entire ride, prompting one of the grooviest punk albums ever recorded.

Still spiking at the handcuffed world around them on snaggletoothed tunes such as "Apathy," "Businessmen," "Fade Away," "Someone is Lying" and "Carry On Laughing," the Subhumans continue their streetwise litanies in deference to the downtrodden while in the same breath concocting a punk album unlike any of its ilk.

The risks taken by the Subhumans on Worlds Apart are relayed by a change from mosh tempo to a ride-cymbal clanging gallop on "Businessmen" to the mixup of Clash-loving reggae-ska to an abrupt sonic din on "Fade Away." The siren-like guitar beacons scattered throughout the verses of "Someone is Lying" is ground-breaking for its time, much less the switch towards crunchy and lofty choruses and the note-inflicted bridge reminiscent of Killing Joke. Either rate, "Someone is Lying" is compactly epic within four-and-a-half minutes versus the 17-minute odyssey of "From the Cradle to the Grave" an album prior.

Particularly thrilling about Worlds Apart is how this album moves and shakes with an unbelievable barrage of hooks and steady throbs on "Can't Hear the Words," ""Get to Work On Time," "British Disease" and "Heads of State." The energy level hardly ceases in the latter part of the album as the Subhumans lay the foundations not only for future punk but also alternative rock with "Straightline Thinking" and the ska struts on "Powergames."

Bruce's guitars are the most stellar they've been in the Subhumans on Worlds Apart while Phil clumps and clangs his bass with his usual snug candor. Trotsky's drum playing is likely stepped up to near-perfection, particularly impressive on the complicated punk-turned-ska-turned-militant march of the sellout indictment "Ex-Teenage Rebel."

Dick Lucas is his usual rowdy self vocally, but there rings even deeper conviction on Worlds Apart than on the Subhumans' earlier work, not that Lucas ever skimped. He historically roasts his own trademark sloshed caterwauling throughout the Subhumans' catalog, which is always one of his subtle charms. Despite, the raw angst sliding out his sniggering pipes on "Apathy" elevates a line such as "Drink, sex, cigarettes, Ford Cortina, household pets. Bombs? War? Famine? Death? An apathetic public couldn't care less" to something Dylan-esque of its kind.

That, friends is the true essence of the Subhumans, relayed to sheer perfection in one of the finest punk albums ever played and sprayed. The scene was never the same once Worlds Apart arrived, even if an equally important title song manifested later on the Subhumans' 29:29 Split Vision. Nearly as important as the Bad Brains' Rock for Light and I Against I...

Rating: *****

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