U.K. Subs - Universal (Cover Artwork)

U.K. Subs

Universal (2002)

Captain Oi!

Just when it seems like the world is full of uncertainties, there's one thing we can always count on: the U.K. Subs. So shame on me for not procuring a copy of their latest record Universal until five months after it was released. Why? Well there are a couple of reasons. Most notably, Charlie Harper and his ever-changing line-up, which on this disc includes Alan Campbell on guitar, Simon Rankin on bass, and Jason Willer of Enemies fame (!) on drums, that make up the U.K. Subs, consistently create some of the best punk rock around, and also because 2002 marks their twenty-fifth year of existence, not an easy feat by any means. Moreover, this, their twenty-first (?) release is a testament to their place in punk's history, present, and future. And lucky me: the first 1500 copies include a bonus live CD, one of which I managed to get my grubby paws on.

In any case, the Subs always play with immense heart and conviction-their music never lacks purpose or meaning, as the lyrics, especially on this disc, convey important messages, whether they be social as on "Devolution" and "White Lie" with lines like "Upper class/You're the one I hate/If we had our way/You'd burn at the stake," or political as on "Spoils of War" and "Universal."

Since the release of their debut Another Kind of Blues in 1979, a loud, fast, edgy, and aggressive style has been their modus operandi, and they don't stray from this winning formula on Universal, although they do mix things up on a couple of songs. For instance, the brilliant "Spoils of War" includes a ska-tinged breakdown that slows the tempo up briefly, while "Crossfire" is a reggae-infused number and "The Dark" is a rather sedate song. However, the other twelve songs are pure in-your-face punk rock. Simply stated, nobody does it better. Just listen to the tumultuous "White Lie," "Papers Lie," with its frantic music and pleading vocals, the hectic yet emotional "Fragile," or "Hollywood." Clocking in at one minute 38 seconds, it's a short, blatant renunciation of the industry.

So, this is an extremely solid release from one of the true stalwarts of punk. It's just as good as their earlier stuff like the aforementioned Blues and 1980's Brand New Age, and rivals 1996's two memorable releases Riot and Quintessentials. These guys could show those tame, radio-friendly so-called "punk" bands a thing or two.

As for the bonus live disc, it's recorded at a show in 2000, has superb sound quality, and includes sixteen classic punk tunes, such as "C.I.D.," "Stranglehold," and great renditions of "Limo Life" and "New York State Police."