They may have only released one full-length album in their original incarnation, but UK Decay influenced a generation of musicians, and along with Southern Death Cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees are considered by some to be the fore fathers of the goth movement. A quarter century on from their last studio recording, the core of the original band reunited for a one off gig and the response was so overwhelming, they soon found themselves making regular live appearances. A new album was, perhaps, something few expected considering the band’s previous output was so scant but the band returned to the studio in late 2012.
Sometimes comebacks happen for money, but sometimes they happen because the social climate is right. For UK Decay, the latter very much applies. It’s surely no coincidence that the politics of early 2013 strongly reflect those times in which ‘For Madmen Only’ was released in 1981. With the Tories back in power and Britain slowly reverting to early eighties values, with greed forcibly widening the canyon between the haves and the have-nots…and not especially slowly. With those in power telling us to pull together when they have little idea of the real world and the cost of living, it’s no wonder the politically motivated spent the first part of the year angry. It’s no wonder UK Decay are angry…and they’ve returned to share their message with us, often in an unsubtle manner.
The anger contained within some of ‘New Hope For The Dead’s eleven tunes is evident even before you’ve heard a note. Just as their debut was housed in an uncompromising sleeve depicting scratchy black and white artwork, this time around they’ve upped the ante, placing their music inside an uncompromising black sleeve featuring distressed images of the US and UK flags – also in black. While parts of the album’s production sound gives away its twenty-first century roots, the core of the band’s sound remains largely unchanged from decades ago…and that’s a little surprising, but in many places, also brings the strongest appeal. Even at their most polished (polished, in this case, being relative) UK Decay still sound like the original post-punk movement’s stronger pallbearers, their dark ambience and pointed anger matched only by the equally short-lived Southern Death Cult.
‘New Hope’s most striking number, ‘Shout!’ comprises of distorted bass runs and feedback held together with near jazz-like hi-hat work, resulting in something that is rather stark but absolutely thrilling. The haunting backdrop is then combined with a lyric concerning terrorism, eventually turning terror on its head, asking Jesus to “come back again, take up that machine gun, bury every politician and shoot their arse to hell.” Provoking stuff, indeed. Themes of terrorism also appear in ‘Killer’, which places vocalist Abbo in the role of US marine on duty in Baghdad. It’s comment on twenty-first century, post 9/11 US politics may be simplified and a little heavy handed (inspired by casual killing now being “government policy”), but it comes in a superb musical package. With groove filled bass riffs punctuated by reverb driven guitar squalls, it results in a piece of post punk only rivalled by parts of Wire’s ‘Chairs Missing’ in terms of accessible menace. More angular brilliance drives ‘New Generation’, a largely spoken vocal challenging the current state of humanity, of corruption, of how so many are destroying themselves and not caring. Its sub-goth approach has more bite than so many bands who’ve appeared in UK Decay’s absence; the veteran band’s music and message is incendiary here, proving that even though a generation of Goths and alt-rock kids have probably never heard of UK Decay, they have so much relevance in 2013.
‘Revolutionary Love Song’ combines a simple message of standing up for your beliefs set against a near tribal drum line. The vocals are almost atonal in places, but that only serves the music better; so much angular power cuts through every note as Abbo suggests “if the police/government don’t like it, it just won’t happen here / If the people don’t like it, it just might happen here.” If any part of the album could be extracted as a soundbite as to where UK Decay stands in 2013, this would be hugely effective. Elsewhere on the album, the system is attacked for allowing “vampire banks” and nurses “die of starvation to get basic pay”, so it’s clear this is a band who’ve lost none of their bite in those long, intervening years. ‘Heavy Metal Jews’ – a comment on the media’s coverage of the ongoing situations in the middle easr – eschews more of the band’s goth leanings and instead settling for a chunky hard rock edge, with Spon’s guitar chugging through some clanging riffs against a simplistic drum. Abbo, meanwhile, steps up his vocal performance accordingly; a loudly mastered voice yelping every line in a naturalistic tone brings a real sense of gravitas. While this has a particularly catchy hook, it is not necessarily as good as the more “traditionally UK Decay” outings featured here.
Some old punks are happy to rest on the nostalgia of their youth, some truck on regardless of having exhausted any message they once had long ago, some sell butter… So much anger colours almost every lyric on this comeback disc; there’s nothing fake or tossed off with an uncaring attitude. Nothing suggests that ‘New Hope’ is about nostalgia or (worse) about making money; as if the rage has been building for three decades Abbo and his crew are as sharp as you remember them. ‘New Hope’ is a record to give old fans and new listeners some food for thought.