I got beaten and slaughtered at this very site for having the guts to review the new Descendents EP on Fat Wreck without really being into the band’s 80’s material. Well let me tell you that The Descendents didn’t mean a lot to me and my friends in our younger years (they do now though), while The Subhumans were already huge in 1983 and the years after that because their first LP “The Country Died” was an instant classic. They sold over 100,000 copies of it, which I’m sure didn’t happen with The Descendents until more recently. Actually, when I think of my adolescence there’s only bands like 7 Seconds, Youth Brigade, J.F.A., Crass, Conflict, Dead Kennedy’s and Discharge that I can think of right now that meant as much to me as Subhumans did. That LP really was one of the reasons that I fell for punkrock in my younger years.
I wasn’t into singer Dick’s new band Citizen Fish too much actually, although there’s nothing bad about them either, but I’m pretty sure they too would have been phenomenal if they existed 15 years earlier. Which leaves me concluding that I thoroughly enjoyed the various songs from this debut 1983 album on this live CD that was recorded in 2003 somwehere in California. The other songs, while baring an equal sound, just didn’t do the same to me, except maybe for “Rain” and the final 2 songs on here. It obviously has got a lot to do with that thing I often refer to as “personal involvement”. In a sense that nostalgia, although it sounds like a lame word, can really make you love certain songs. I don’t really own any of their later work, but I do remember listening to it on cassette and it never was instant love like that first LP to be honest.
For those not aware of what Subhumans is all about, they are a political UK band that in my recollection were one of the first to actually have great catchy sing-along songs without sounding really messy. I doubt if they would want to admit this themselves, but maybe they had the same accessiblity to their music as the Sex Pistols had, because you can shout along with all these songs’ anthemic choruses and the often “instrumentless” vocal inbetweens. Also there’s some pre-historic ska-ish sound in some of these songs, I think I make that connection because of the contra-timed guitars. Additionally they use original metaphores (“Mickey Mouse Is Dead”), self-invented worlds (“Subvert City”) and grabbing reality-situations (“This Year’s War”, a new song about the war in Iraq and maybe the best song besides those of the debut) to sing about our in many ways fucked-up world, the a-social behavior of its inhabitants, animal mistreatments, anti-capitalism, anti-religious matters... Yes, the usual bunch of trouble that we live in. These aren’t Anti-Flag lyrics though: they are pretty well thought-over and in no way sloganesque, although the choruses after a while might sound as if they are. Don’t let it fool you. Dick is a clever guy and his voice could be one of the most unique out there. It sounds just like it did 20 years ago and I can’t think of any similarities here, maybe also due to the fact that we don’t hear a lot of UK singers anymore lately.
I’m really happy that Fat Wreck took care of these terrific live recordings for their Live In A Dive series, because they are really very sharp, put an emphasize on the amazing vocals and have just the right dosis of audience-sounds to give you a good impression on the energetic atmosphere a show by this band might provoke. I’m yet to witness it, but you can be damn sure I’ll be there when I have the opportunity. The comic that comes with this CD is just some illustrations for the lyrics of “Subvert City”. The video-interview by Fat Mike that comes with it also has Dick Lucas explaining this song, along with a short one-song live performance.
I’m not sure younger kids out there will have the same impression when they listen to this, for my nostalgic involvement with this band is really not allowing me to review this unbiased, but maybe you should try out songs like “No” and “Mickey Mouse Is Dead”, cause they are truly classics for a band that has meant a lot to me.