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New Levellers album - Truth & Lies

Salman Shaheen


I should probably start by saying that I’m not a music critic, I’ve never reviewed an album before, in fact I’ve never reviewed anything before! But I am a lifelong fan of the Levellers, I grew up on their music. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in the car on the way to school with my sister, hearing those chilling words entering my consciousness and feeling for that nameless soldier lying face down on the ground as gunshots shatter the peace of night, another casualty of ‘Another Man’s Cause’ and another unjust war. I danced in my mind to ‘The Riverflow’ and dreamed of being ‘The Boatman’, free and unfettered, and that some day I could be, everything I dreamed I’d be!


Having grown up on their music, and still believing that their second album, ‘Levelling the Land’, is the best album ever made by anyone anywhere, may perhaps make me one of the hardest critics to please. But I have to say I am very pleased! No, it’s not ‘Levelling the Land’, but ‘Truth & Lies’, their latest offering out this week, is a bloody good album in its own right!


From ‘World Freakshow’ and ‘One Way’ to ‘Dog Train’ and ‘Hope Street’ the Levellers have always had that spark to kick off almost every album in a way that has you dancing from the very first song to the closing sentiments. ‘Last Man Alive’, the first song on their new album, is no exception! The moment the drums and guitar kicks off into Mark Chadwick’s brilliant vocals I’m dancing like a nutter, the world around me disappears, and hair flying in all directions I’m singing along in my typically tone deaf way right until the end of the album! That’s the magic of the Levellers, and it’s what makes them one of the best live acts around today.


With little pause for breath we’re into ‘Make You Happy’, their solid single which entered the charts at 38, a song which really can’t fail to do exactly what it says on the tin, dancing all the way! ‘For Us All’, complete with Jon Sevink’s lively fiddle playing, is the kind of song I’d imagine chanting whilst sitting around the campfire at Glastonbury. It’s a happy clappy song, which would never fail to lift your spirits, and seems almost the successor to ‘Far From Home’ on ‘Levelling the Land’.


Catchy choruses aside, it’s not long before we’re into the real depth of the Levellers’ song writing talent. What made their early albums so great for me was their overt political messages. They never seemed afraid to speak out, or use music and art as a medium for spreading very important ideas. In their later albums, however, this message has seemed increasingly subtle, though not gone altogether. When I spoke to Mark after their gig in Cambridge in February, I asked him if the new album would see a return to their overtly political songs, something I thought we needed in the times we’re living in. He replied that all songs are political. Perhaps he meant that you can take what meaning you want from music, and the Levellers never fail to speak to me on so many different levels. Either way, I’m glad to see that their politics is not absent from the new album.


Hardly surprising, I suppose, with a name like ‘Truth & Lies’. Bassist Jeremy Cunningham has again outdone himself with the striking album artwork, which immediately gives you an impression of the subtleties of the politics of this album. At first glances you may see an upper class soiree. But look a little closer! Isn’t that Lenin dressed as Uncle Sam with blood on his hands? One of the smartly dressed women seems to be wearing Che Guevara’s beret, and another is sporting the anarchist circled A. And it’s not wine they’re drinking, but poison! Turn the CD case over and you’ll see the puppet master pulling all of their strings!


‘Knot Around The World’ is probably the most overtly political song on the album, an unashamed anti-war song, denouncing the lies of politicians and the folly of the soldiers who have bought into that lie that has brought them to their deaths. The cutting line “A soldier, a hero, that’s not what you became tonight; a trophy a figure on the News at Ten tonight” should give all pause for thought. ‘Confess’ is a lively satire on religion, whilst ‘Said and Done’ speaks to me of environmentalism. The song that captures the spirit of this album best, I think, would have to be ‘Who’s The Daddy’ containing the title lyrics, “Truth and lies, no disguise!”. It’s a song about control and deceit, in an almost Big Brother sense, referring to the puppet master on the back cover. The album ends with ‘Sleeping’, what seems to me to be a direct continuation of ‘Wake The World’ the final song on their last album, ‘Green Blade Rising’. This time it’s not just about waking the world, it’s about waking yourself so that you can get out there and wake the world! ‘Remember the fire, the fire in you’ - those who were once active but have resigned themselves to apathy must wake!


So, as I said at the beginning, no this isn’t ‘Levelling the Land’, neither is it a step back, but a leap forward. Perhaps slightly more to the pop side of folk-punk, if there is such a thing, like ‘Mouth to Mouth’, but still not selling out on their loyal base of fans to court popularity. This is a clear progression from the more organic feeling ‘Green Blade Rising’, which I felt lost some of its lyrical depth in favour of rousing choruses, and miles apart from ‘Hello Pig’ the album that I felt was sadly the greatest departure from what made the Levellers great for me.


This is, without a doubt, a great album, with some truly rousing, lively, upbeat and yet lyrically deep songs that the band should feel proud to add to their repertoire. I think I can say comfortably that this is the best work the Levellers have done in years. I can also say comfortably that I’m pleased to have got through an entire review of a Levellers album without a single reference to dogs on strings, Doc Martens, acid or special brew!



May 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism