The Selecter - Subculture (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Selecter

Subculture (2015)


Being born in the mid-'80s, I came of age listening to a lot of third wave ska bands like Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Later in life, I would discover second wave ska. Most notably, the artists who called the 2 Tone label home. While third wave ska would bring a larger punk influence into its sound, there is something much more soulful in the feel of the bands which resided on the 2 Tone label throughout the '70s and '80s. One of these bands, The Selecter, is still making music in the 21st century. Their latest album, Subculture, shows they’ve lost none of their vitality after over 35 years in the scene and numerous lineup changes.

Original members, and co-vocalists, Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson are the only two remaining members of note from the band’s early days on this release. But, the cast of players they’ve brought with them put together an album that sounds fresh and vital, which is saying a lot for a style of music that hasn’t changed a lot since the early 1980s. One of the main reasons for this, is they never try to be anything they are not. While many of their peers transformed their sound to fit into the changing styles of pop music, The Selecter keep it pure 2 Tone on this release.

Another element adding to the immediacy of this record is the lyrical content. While many bands who touched on sociopolitical issues early in their careers take on the angry adult tone as they age, you don’t get that with any songs on this release. And nearly all of them have political undertones. While other songs throughout the early parts of the release certainly have a sociopolitical tinge, it’s on the fourth track, “Breakdown,” that the band takes a look at a cold, disconnected society, law enforcement within this society and then name check a number of people who lost their lives in police related violence, or in the case of Trayvon Martin’s killer, a citizen who didn’t listen to police dispatch tell him not to follow and that an officer was en route.

The band does step away from social agendas for a moment to tackle the Bruce Springsteen-penned Patti Smith classic “Because the Night.” A bold choice for a cover, a classic song from one of the best songwriters of the past 50 years made popular by one of the best female vocalists in the history of rock music. They pull it off though, perhaps not to the monumental heights Patti Smith did, but they certainly surpass the rather tepid rendition 10,000 Maniacs would give us in 1993. And I dare say that the version we get here is on par with most of the renditions I’ve heard from Springsteen.

Throughout the album, you get what was a hallmark of the 2 Tone sound, awareness of the world around you without letting it destroy you. You also get some of the best vocal interplay I’ve heard between two artists in some time. Maybe it’s the fact they’ve been at it 35 years plus or maybe it’s despite the fact this is a ska album, every vocal on this record would have been just as at home on some of the great soul records that came out in the late '60s and early '70s. It’s rare for a band to keep it together for as long as The Selecter has, it’s even rarer for them to do so while sticking to their original sound. On Subculture we see evidence of a band that succeeds on both counts.

Please Note – While this album should be mandatory summer listening in the UK, anyone living in the US will have to wait until October 2nd to purchase this album stateside.