The Skids – ‘Burning Cities’

Shout it from the rooftops – art punks the Skids have at last released a fifth album. 36 years on, they’re still angry as hell.

“Fuck getting old!” – Richard Jobson at the Waterfront club, Norwich, Friday 19 January. (Pic: Dawn Tomlin)

At the Waterfront club in Norwich, midway through a triumphant set on Friday 19 January, a not-even-slightly-out-of-breath Richard Jobson, vocalist with the Skids since 1977, paused. Appraising the mosh pit before him, full of mainly grey-haired men on the wrong side of 50 energetically reliving their youth, he looked out at the audience and announced, “FUCK getting old.”

Essentially, this is the starting point for the Skids fifth LP, Burning Cities.

I wasn’t convinced it was a good idea. At the end of a tremendous set at the Roundhouse in London last June, the Skids closed with a new song, A World on Fire, the overdone lyrics of which I reckoned didn’t match the brilliance of their back catalogue. Seven months on…

The Skids took to the Norwich stage with This Is Our World, the first track on Burning Cities. Live and on the album version, the moment the first, urgent guitar chords ripped from the speakers, surging with confidence, the 36-year gap since their last LP Joy vanished in a second.

This isn’t nostalgia, although the Skids trademarks – call and response choruses, uplifting guitar breaks and a preference for Woah-oh chants – are all present and correct. As I said above, the lyrical contents rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light, tempered by a disgust and frustration at the state of the modern world, a perspective that, back at the Roundhouse last June, Jobson said still made the band “angry as hell.” In the context of the album, A World on Fire now works perfectly. Besides, the Skids always had a tendency towards baroque lyrics – that’s what set them apart from the punk herd.

Bruce Watson, Richard Jobson at the Waterfront club, Norwich, Friday 19 January. (Pic: Dawn Tomlin)

This Is Our World is a storming opener and a fabulous statement of intent. The sentiments remain the same with the next song One Last Chance – also aired at the Waterfront – but the musical palette changes, as the band lean towards vintage Iggy and the Stooges. It works brilliantly, and if there’s a candidate for a single, it’s this one. As Jobson said on the 19, “When we come back in a few months, you’ll be singing every word.”

Each successive track is a life-affirming, uh, joy. Kaputt urges “Dont hide away/Dont run away”, while A World on Fire is the first track to really replicate the late Stuart Adamsons guitar style; its an indication of the quality of the album thus far, that you don’t notice the differences in the twin guitar-attack of father and son duo Bruce and Jamie Watson. The following Burning Cities brings the frenetic pace down slightly with a mid-paced rocker, allowing room for some more Adamson-esque riffing.

Up on the Moors will have you doing Jobson-style high-kicks around the kitchen – well, it did me, anyway. Perhaps that’s because this glorious album highlight recalls the Skids anthem Out of Town (the B-side to Masquerade), one of my favourites. The swirling, optimistic tune insists Never look back with a chorus as equally punch-the-air hopeful: I’m up here on the moors/The world is spinning round/I’m up here on the moors/I’m never coming down. I can’t help feeling these “fuck getting old” sentiments will be felt in the bones of 50-something moshers everywhere.

Father and son duo Bruce and Jamie Watson at the Waterfront club, Norwich, Friday 19 January. (Pic: Dawn Tomlin)

The mid-point of Burning Cities offers another stand-out track. Refugee is the most left-field track on the album, its overlapped, echoed vocals recalling some of the tracks on Joy, although the songs brooding rock soundscape, which slowly builds in intensity, is more accomplished than anything on the Skids divisive fourth album. Bizarrely, Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch appears to wander by for an uncredited vocal cameo at the start of the song.

The rest of the Skids comeback LP goes for the jugular. Subbotnik is a straight-ahead punker, with the songs title bellowed out in a repeated Albert Tatlock!-style chant; in places, its melody recalls Magazine’s Shot by Both Sides (unless that’s just me getting over excited). Kings of the New World Order has the best marriage of spirited guitars and vocals on the album, while Into the Void offers more hardcore punk, with the clarion call “Don’t push me around/Don’t drag me down.” 

 Desert Dust is the last track and heralds another change in musical style, this time with an aural landscape that sounds like the potential soundtrack to a spaghetti western. Its’ hearts in the right place with the story of disenfranchised youth being sent off to fight in Iraq, but unfortunately the lyrics in the verses are below par with the rest of the album. It’s a shame there’s a slight drop in quality, particularly because it’s the last track. However, Desert Dust is redeemed slightly by the chorus, which is very much in the vein of the Skids’ other paeans to masculine solidarity like Hurry on Boys.

 In short, Richard Jobson (vocals), Bill Simpson (bass, a Skid from Scared to DanceDays in Europa), Mike Bailie (drums, a Skid for The Absolute Game) and Bruce and Jamie Watson (late of the latest incarnation of Stuart Adamson’s highly successful post-Skids venture, Big Country) have delivered a belter of a comeback album on two counts: 1) they haven’t disappointed the fans who yearned to hear more intellectual, rabble-rousing terrace chants and 2) Burning Cities urge to celebrate the simple, life-enhancing joys in the world around you, as well as keep on moving forward, no matter how going-to-shit everything seems to be, has made the Skids as relevant in 2018 as they were 40 years ago.

In some ways that’s depressing, because it shows just how fucked the world is, but if we’re all going to hell, there’s no better way to go than to the accompaniment of the tunes on Burning Cities.

Though if the lads could do one more LP before we all buy the farm, that’d be great.

The Skids – Burning Cities (NB3CD) was released on 12 January 2018 on CD & LP by Nobad Records. Buy the album from Rough Trade  Other outlets are available. 

Become a patron at Patreon!