Stiff Little Fingers: Jake Burns (vocals, guitar); Bruce Foxton (vocals, bass); Steve Grantley (drums, percussion, background vocals).
Additional personnel: Theresa Heanue (fiddle); John Curtin (tin whistle); Billy Miskimmin (harmonica); Simon Clarke (alto & baritone saxophones); Tim Sanders (tenor saxophone); Roddy Lorimer (trumpet); Holly Roberts (piano, Hammond organ); Ian McCallum (background vocals).
Personnel: Jake Burns (vocals, guitar); Bruce Foxton (vocals, bass guitar); Steve Grantley (vocals, drums, percussion).
Recording information: Matrix Studio.
Stiff Little Fingers come off like friends who are perennially late, but fun to see. So goes this album, which consolidates the melodic advances of its predecessor, 1995's Get a Life. Gravel-voiced singer-guitarist Jake Burns is the last remaining founding member, following the exit of original drummer Dolphin Taylor, while former Jam bassist Bruce Foxton continues to make significant studio contributions. The pared-down trio propels lean, mean blasts against global economics ("You Never Hear the One That Hits You"), selfish politicians ("A River Flowing"), and sour relationships ("I Could Be Happy Yesterday"). A more diverse approach prevails elsewhere. Glistening acoustic guitars underpin "My Ever Changing Moral Stance," which appears to slam the Jam's mercurial frontman, Paul Weller; it's impossible not to imagine Foxton cackling his encouragement. Jaunty horns power Foxton's vocal showcase, "Dust in My Eye," and Irish instrumentation carries the two-part "Roaring Boys," which Burns had earmarked for an aborted solo album. The biggest surprise is a churning, rubber-burning remake of "The Message," Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five's searing indictment of inner-city misery. It's a bold reminder of punk's affinity for black musical idioms -- such as when the band redid "Johnny Was," Bob Marley's lament for youth killed by stray bullets, on its incendiary 1979 debut album. Burns' lyrical vision does wax repetitive at times: For example, Get a Life's "I Don't Believe in You" becomes "You Don't Believe in Me" this time around. Yet such complaints are minor, given the avalanche of punk pygmies with nothing on their minds. Even when his pen wavers, Burns' craftsmanship and commitment have never been an issue. There are times when less is more, and this album is a shining example. ~ Ralph Heibutzki