The new Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes album walks the delicate line between scuzz and melody with swagger. Whilst undeniably poppy, and in some ways a far cry from the work with Gallows that first brought him to public attention, it retains enough of the bite and the venom (yes I’m reaching for the snake puns) that made them such an arresting proposition.
Opening track ‘Sticky’ sets the agenda nicely, a fuzzy bassline kicking things off like many of the songs on the record. A depiction of a bored, horny reveller wandering the streets in the middle of the night, monster images are deployed to good effect on the huge chorus to illuminate their desires. The music is correspondingly filthy, the fuzzy bass being joined by electronic squelches and furious guitar. As everywhere else on the album, the production values are high and as a result, the music is rarely genuinely threatening or dangerous. But the song has an irresistible momentum and the aforementioned huge chorus.
Across the album Carter displays an unerring ear for an anthemic chorus. From the rousing call to arms of “Smash your sadness / go get a tattoo” on “Go get a tattoo’, to the wry “Cupid’s arrow / makes it harder to breathe” on ‘Cupid’s Arrow’, the choruses on Sticky, driven by Dean Richardson’s monster riffs, are so propulsive they seem to have been precision tooled for being belted back by impassioned fans in sweaty moshpits. When the band make it out on tour with this record in the new year, I suspect these tracks will lay waste to venues!
Which is not to say that the record is simply a parade of empty singalongs. There is real lyrical substance here too. ‘Go Get a Tattoo’ is a response to Carter’s opening of a tattoo shop being derailed by the pandemic, a two-fingered riposte to the whims of fate and a refusal to be beaten. The record is also unafraid to take aim at those the band see worth of their contempt. On a more humorous level, ‘Bang Bang’ drily skewers “The boys on gak, singing Grls On Film, at the top of their lungs at The Fox On The Hiil” and the mindlessness of their behaviour. ‘Off With His Head”, meanwhile, sees the band duetting with Cassyette to offer a scathing critique of patriarchal society and it’s mechanisms for policing women. The contrast between the verses detailing the abhorrent treatment of women, and the choruses in which punishment is doled out in return offer a striking call to arms and plea for agency. You can probably guess how the refrain “Off with his head” fits into this!
Those last two tracks feature Cassyette and Lynks and are all the better for it. Often guest vocalists are a roll of the dice that doesn’t work – either an unsuccessful attempt to broaden a band’s sound, or a cynical attempt to piggyback onto another artist’s appeal. Neither is the case here. A number of the songs feature guest appearances and all of them work. They play different roles, sometimes taking control of the chorus, sometimes (like Joe Talbot of Idles) offering a barked counterpart to Carter’s more melodic delivery. In every case they complement rather than distracting or weakening. The result is a truly collaborative album that benefits from the creative interplay between it’s different contributors.
The final song sees Bobby Gillespie join the band for a meditation on temptation and sin – Gillespie playing the role of the tempting devil. It shows the band flexing their musical chops and incorporating flashes of Memphis soul into their sound. It’s reflective of the band’s willingness across the record to incorporate disparate elements into their sound and a desire not to become stagnant. Frank has said that it’s not a lockdown record, it’s a freedom record and that sense of the shackles being off comes through in the joys of musical collaboration and attempts to expand their musical horizons.
All in all, this a great record and one that shows it’s still possible, even after the much-heralded death of guitar music, to make an urgent, necessary rock album. Go and see the band when they tour in the new year. In the meantime, put this on your stereo and turn it up loud.
Words by Will Collins