The Levellers are one of those persistent, stubborn bands who continue to create music despite having little common with the mainstream rock music, not even with the "typical" folk punk, like Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphys. Their folk punk was always somewhat calmer than one represented by bands influenced by Irish folk, but never lacking a well—placed fury—driven verses and choruses. Even with the breakthroughs of Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys or Gogol Bordello in 00s, The Levellers stayed under the radar, releasing albums which sadly didn't get too much recognition despite their unique sound and great compositions. With 24 years of experience under their belts, the band released Static on the Airwaves in 2012 via their own label, On The Fiddle Recordings.
The title track serves as an intro, 49 seconds of electronic/ambient sounds and Mark Chadwick's vocals, which give way to "We Are All Gunmen", the first "proper" song on the album. Sung by the more punk—like vocalist of the band, Simon Friend, the track takes on a vision of the perfect world without discrimination nor corruption. Rather calm in it's nature, it departs from the punkier sound of the last record, instead providing anthemic chorus and electronic, somewhat surreal elements. Unfortunately they might come off as distracting and the song would lose little to none of it's charm if they were sacrificed for, say, violinist's Jon Sevink's trademark solo.
The next song, "Truth Is" is more typical for The Levellers, with groovy intro and well—executed, engaging verses, catching attention from the first seconds it's played and not letting go of it despite weaker chorus. What is baffling is the noticeably more chaotic mastering of the latter, luckily the song is saved by Chadwick's take on politics from the perspective of working class' member and his vocal skill. Anarchistic stomper, even if it not without it's problems.
"After The Hurricane" sounds similarly to the songs from Chadwick's solo album, a slower, charming song with wonderful vocal harmonies and a chorus that manages to successfully be both energetic and reflective. Driven by acoustic guitar and piano, it isn't a folk—punk kicker, as much as a calm, solid folk song, but that's an advantage, rather than a flaw.
What follows is "Our Forgotten Towns" — violin—driven, ominous description of dying English towns, left to disappear in modern society. Chadwick's vocals are exceptional, there is a certain sadness mixed with anger in his voice, which results in quite a memorable tune.
"No Barriers" comes back to more folk—rock, classic Levellers sound, with Sevink's violin solo and distorted guitars, a reminder of the previous albums' sound. Still, it is a rather slow track, but closer to the punk roots of the band than it's two predecessors. Positive and energetic, it might remind of the "Liberty Song" off of their second album, but with the anger swapped for more pleasant nature of the song.
Simon Friend takes over the next song, "Alone In The Darkness", a wonderful, heartfelt folk tune dealing with death of beloved person. His voice perfectly conveys feeling of loss and thanks to his unique voice, far rougher than Chadwick's, instead of being cheesy or at the very least mediocre, it's an honest tearjerker, and one of the best songs on "Static On The Airwaves" .
Up next is "Raft Of Medusa", a folk—punk shanty which could easily be on older Levellers albums, with groovy bass line of Jaz Cunningham, pleasant violin riff and Chadwick's most energetic performance on the release. Incredibly enjoyable tune, completed by the gruesome lyrics about shipwrecked crew of Medusa, members of which turn to cannibalism.
"Mutiny" is yet another typical Levellers song, with Chadwick spinning the tragic tale of Jesse Robert Short — a mutinous soldier from the days of WWI. Putting himself in Short's position, he delivers lines full of both sadness and anger in a very convincing manner, making the song one of the highlights of the album. The groovy bass line is back for the most part of the tune and the calmer piano parts emphasize the tragedy described by Chadwick's words.
"Traveller" mixes acoustic guitar and piano (with some electronic ambience) to deliver calm, heartfelt, simplistic tune, which is a moment of reflection before the "Second Life", a more oldschool folk song about giving up on reality and losing oneself in the online world.
"Recruting Sergeant" serves as album's closer, the band reworked traditional tune "Twa Recruting Sergeants" to fit modern times, changing Black Watch's anthem into an anti—war tale about a petty thief conned into Army service in Afghanistan. Friend, who is the main vocalist in this song, is joined in the chorus by the rest of the band and their special guest — Czech band Divokej Bill, which gives off a great vibe of Pogues—like folk party where everybody is invited. Wonderful outro of a solid album.
The sound is significantly different from the one present on previous albums, that is, the band abandoned to some extent their punk roots in order to explore some calmer territories, but despite it, "Static On The Airwaves" is still a folk—punk release. Though more folk—rock this time round, seemingly more laid back and with less anger in them, The Levellers have managed to create yet another unique album and stayed true to their own unmistakable brand of folk—punk, which is saying something, considering multitude of folk—punk bands which can be described as "Pogues with overdriven guitars". From the beginning to the end, while in no way a perfect album, it's a solid, honest and mature effort of a band who went from being "Pistols with violin" to having their own festival and being one of the most cherished folk—punk acts in Europe. The highlights are "Alone In This Darkness", "Raft Of Medusa", "Mutiny" and "Recruiting Sergeant", each of them a great, memorable song that deserves nothing but applause.