Crazy Arm's eagerly awaited debut album released in 2009 was something of a revelation in relation to what I'd heard of the then-current UK punk scene. Quite simply, it's a refreshing sound that doesn't attempt to ape any latest craze or harken back to nostalgic days of yore. It is extremely tuneful and powerful whilst being lyrically way ahead of most other "punk" bands I've heard in the last few years. Topping it off, the album contains songs that are varied without wandering between genres and becoming muddled. The other interesting point is that even with most tracks clocking in at over four minutes, none of them drag, which is a trap many bands fail to avoid.
Where to start then? Crazy Arm blend a guitar-driven punk sound with elements of country and folk to create a collection of songs that, by rights, should see them reach a much wider audience than they have up to now. Add to this the band having a social conscience, which is evident both through the lyrics and the list of various organisations and websites in the album booklet, and it's then you do feel that what you are getting is something that has a total punk ethic without being blinkered in its approach.
The album kicks off with the brooding bassline of "Asphalt," which, once it kicks into life, gives you an idea that what is to come is a musical journey that is comfortable to change pace and direction without losing any of its urgency.
Following on it is the excellent "Still to Keep," which includes a line that made me smile in recognition: "It's hard to see the right choice to be made, and harder still to keep." Surely a situation many people who have a conscience and do not act blindly without thought feel at times--certainly I do--whilst "No need for the key when you kick down the door" also evokes a punk attitude that runs through all of the lyrics.
If you ever want to hear a song that hits the punk/country crossover perfectly, then "Blind Summit" is for you--a rejection of religion and war that gallops along at a fair pace with Darren Johns' vocals a joy to listen to.
"Broken by the Wheel" is the first single from the album and opens with a flourish of guitar work that even when I see Darren Johns play it live totally befuddles me as a novice axeman. A song that brings back memories of New Model Army's take on narrow mindedness held within their finest moment, "Smalltown England."
With "International Front," Crazy Arm nail their colours firmly to the mast. An attack on the BNP/National Front and the "troglodytes" who for so many years have worshiped at the altar of fascism/Nazism, this is a song that is totally relevant today with the rise in popularity of the BNP and would equally have sat well in the '80s punk scene when the obnoxious element of bulletheads terrorised punks and skins alike.
The songs above are my own favourites, although that's not to detract from the others on the album. Others may have different views but to me these highlight how good Crazy Arm are and why anyone with any interest in rock music (let's not get hung up on the word "punk" too much, as this album will appeal to people who like good music) should give the band a listen.
What appeals to me the most is that the lyrics have a message that is there for you to absorb as opposed to having it preached to you. At the end of the day we all have minds of our own--it's up to us how we use them and make the choices that reflect the thoughts within.
Each song comes with a brief explanation alongside the lyrics that proves to be an extremely useful and interesting accompaniment, as they give some insight into the meaning and/or origin of each track. Darren Johns' vocal delivery is both passionate and urgent, showing belief in what he is singing about and the need to articulate this to a wider audience. Joined by Dan Couling on guitar (also providing the slide effects), Jon Dailey as the stringed part of the rhythm section with Simon Marsh pounding the skins, the overall outcome is a delivery not restricted by the confines of the studio, although the live experience is something to behold when the songs take on new lives filled with the enthusiasm of Johns, a formidable and intense; yet often smiling, frontperson.
I have not heard an album this good for a number of years, especially one that delivers consistently from the first to the last track. The songs are bouncing around in my head and seeing the band live only confirms my belief that they and this album should be turning heads in a big way.
The other thing this record shows is that for all the Johnny-come-lately political posturing offered by mainstream punk bands like Green Day and NOFX, there are bands like Crazy Arm who are fighting the fight without the benefit of small fortunes to back them up. Crazy Arm have single-handedly reminded me of why punk music and its message have always been important in my life. Think of bands like 7 Seconds, Youth Brigade, Bad Religion and D.O.A.--etc.--who have kept going over a long period of time maintaining the ideals that they started with: These are the kinds of bands that Crazy Arm have more in common with and for that I'm grateful.