Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Submission - No Man's Land E.P.

It is often said that sometimes the very best in people comes out in times of adversity. If that's the case, then one would expect this EP to be a gold-plated, sparkling diamond of musical genius and genre-defining mastery that reconfigures your very perceptions of music as an art form. Or at least to have some pretty ace tunes on it. Now that The Submission are back on the circuit, it's easy to forget that it wasn't long ago that the very existance of the band was in doubt, and this EP is a product of those sour sessions. Produced just over a year ago, it's the last recorded output featuring drummer Stu Cavell, who departed in acrimonious circumstances a few months later. Tensions were high, gigs were sparse and the future was uncertain. So, is this a record that gathers that ill-feeling together into a titanic super-record bursting with epic catharsis?

Erm, no.

In fact, the more I listen to it, the more it becomes clear to me that, rather than being a medium to vent the frustration hanging in the air, it's more just a snapshot of a rather negative moment in time. The recordings feel flat and jaded, as if reflecting the circumstances; rather than rising above the negativity, the EP tends to drag it's heels and wallow in it instead. The production values aren't quite up to Rich Harris' stellar standards, with the drums in particular sounding flakey and insubstantial, like a toy drumkit or some chocolate box tins. Rich's vocals themselves also suffer, with some of the trademark livewire crackle and spark missing from the vocal lines, and choruses that were intended to soar majestically just end up sputtering pathetically off the ground.

What stops this record from being anything other than an unnessecerily well-packaged drinks coaster are the songs themselves, which are very good. They eschew the familiar classic punk rock template and take on a distinctly folksy approach, as if Rich spent most of the sessions listening to old Flogging Molly and Pogues records. So there's plenty of chaotically fast drumbeats and gang-vocal choruses, and when this is married to Rich's strong ear for melody and chord progressions, you have a matrimony to last a lifetime. 'Wake Up' in particular sounds like an early Flogging Molly demo with less instrumentation. The highlight of the E.P. is the title track, which opens with a haunting solo ballad section piped through what sounds like an old gramaphone record, with Rich's yearning vocal lines sounding particularly effective. However, this is The Submission we're talking about, so it should be no surprise that the lighters-in-the-air balladry doesn't last that long, before the whole song takes a nitrous oxide bottle up the sphincter and roars into chaotically fast folk-punk mayhem, but the fact that it never looses it's soul alleviates it above other attempts at this style of music - yup, turns out these punk rockers can turn out a half-decent love song, too. A decent version of Eddy Grant's 'Police on my Back' done in Clash style bookends the disc, with bassist and unsung heroine of the piece Sadie Williams particularly enjoying herself on the chorus runs.

Overall, there's just something a bit disappointing about the record - it's not bad, just let down by the fact we know that they can do better, and have done since then. It's a product of it's environment, and now that the band have moved on from those days, it serves as a signpost of where they were at that particular point in time. The fact that the two originals on here are still worthy of your attention just prooves their strength as songwriters, and if you can find a copy, it's still worth a look.

Rating: 71%
Standout Track: 'No Man's Land'.

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