UNIT – Rock In Opposition (Phase One) (DNA CD)
This is the 6th UNIT album which builds on the lyrical themes and musical styles of previous releases, but provides some surprises into the bargain as well.
The band’s tradition of reworking previous songs is present and correct. I feel this works best with the new version of “Science and Magick” – a song which I enjoyed so much when I first heard the Academy 23 version that I seriously considered having it played at my funeral alongside Hopeton Lewis’ “Take It Easy”.
The usual score-settling occurs on “Sick Scum”, in which people who have given the band unwarranted (and downright bigoted) bad reviews are taken to task. Don’t mess!
Whilst I like UNIT’s songs, I was beginning to miss the more experimental numbers which some of the band had produced under the Academy 23 banner, so I was pleased to see that this album marks the return of some soundscapes accompanied by spoken word. “The Blue Funnel” is a definite highlight, telling the story of 4,000 Chinese sailors in Liverpool who were used in the British war effort and then cruelly cast aside.
The album marks a noticeable return to a concern with global politics. This is a theme which had always been present, but was perhaps submerged under a cynicism with anarchist and leftist politics and activists (often entirely justifiably). Themes such as globalisation and war permeate the lyrics, with an analysis far deeper than your run of the mill punk band.
“The Last 10′ of a Tyrant” deals with the actions of Pinochet on the 11th of September 1973 – the other 9/11? Other topics include Baader Meinhof and the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Alternative media is bigged up throughout – whatreallyhappened.com and indymedia especially, and “The Clear Spot” is named after and dedicated to a show on Resonance FM.
The instrumentation is intriguingly diverse – the addition of a bit of clarinet squawking alto saxophone underline the more vocally aggressive tracks really effectively.
The CD comes with a full colour 16 page booklet with photos, lyrics etc, AND a 40 page A5 booklet with texts, rants etc (including the shock revelation that Andy Martin was a raver in the mid to late 90s!).
I only have one major reservation about the album…
UNIT are known for not shying away from unpopular views and controversial lyrics. This is easy for me to swallow when they are being cynical about peace protestors and this cynicism leads them to posing the question “if wars are so unpopular, why do they continue?”. But Rock In Opposition steps over the line in one section of the otherwise excellent 9 minutes long “Middle East Panorama”.
The track begins with a great pastiche of voiceover from a martial arts film and gives way to Andy Martin’s vocal on the subject of the Palestinian conflict. Whilst obviously I’d endorse things like:
“Terrorism comes in many different types
but it’s usually controlled by the stars and stripes”
I take issue with:
“[…] brutal jewish crimes against humanity”
“[…]Kick out every jew
Tell them where to go
Victory to the PLO”
“[…]Ask for our compassion
because you are jew
yet you want to do to arabs
what the nazis did to you”
I feel that this racialises the conflict unnecessarily.
Aside from that it is completely counterproductive for two reasons. Firstly it allows defenders of the Zionist state and its occupation to continue to paint its critics as being anti-semitic. Secondly it implicitly places all jews in the category of supporters of Zionism, which is of course some way from being the case.
For example hacidic jews where I live are at pains to distance themselves from the Zionist state on the grounds that it derives from a misinterpretation of the Torah. There is a street near Stamford Hill called West Bank and hacidic jews have burnt the Israeli flag there in protest.
More promisingly I’ve personally met people born in Israel who are far from supporters of “their” government. Similarly, whilst they are currently small, it is clear that there are some elements within the conflict which are developing a class consciousness, or at the very least a perspective which is more complex than a binary “arabs vs jews” one. Couching the issue in these terms probably makes for an easier song lyric, but it can’t help our understanding of the situation. And in any case I like UNIT precisely because they usually aren’t afraid of moving away from simplistic sloganeering. I should add that I would be very surprised if any member of the band did actually harbour anti-semitic thoughts – if they did I wouldn’t be publicising their work, of course.
Thankfully the remainder of the track is up to the usual high level of musical quality and lyrical insight. An internationalist perspective is introduced which includes an attack on Belmarsh Prison – “our very own Guantanamo Bay”. I owe Andy Martin a long letter (if you’ve ever had a letter from Andy Martin you will undertand this!) and I’ll include a printout of this review and ask for his comments.
Overall Rock In Opposition is yet another excellent album from UNIT, which is unfortunately marred by about 2 minutes of ill-thought out lyrics. With that proviso aired, I’d still recommend that people check it out.
Available for £10 (including postage and packing worldwide) from: UNIT HQ, PO BOX 45885, LONDON E11 1UW, UK. Please make cheques/postal/money orders payable to YM Cheung.
See http://www.unit-united.co.uk/ for further information and mp3s.