Of all genres, the blues is most suited to documenting the trials and tribulations of what it is to be human. There is something guttural, raw and essential about the form, allowing performers to bare their souls so utterly and completely.
And so it is with Broken Banjo’s latest outing, The Lost Art of Being Human. At its heart it’s the angriest of polemics directed against anyone and everyone who has sought to stamp on the spirit of others; politicians, religious fundamentalists and African warlords are held in contempt for the damage they have done to their fellow humans.
But the focuses of the rage extend far beyond these targets to ex-girlfriends at one, individual level, through to God Himself at the other end of the cosmic extreme.
On stage, Broken Banjo present themselves with much in the way of laddish, knockabout banter – something that remains on show in small corners of the album (the spoken word piece “Infinity” with its scatological musings on parallel universes being a case in point). But for the most part, The Lost Art… shows a greater depth to the band.
Here you will find angry descriptions of parents being killed in front of children who are then taught to kill and rape (‘African Child’). You’ll find complaints about airtime given to racists (‘Thunder’). And on ‘Church’ you’ll find “a man in a dress [who] tells you to pick on gays’.
It’s a sprawling album, some 17 tracks long and weighing in at 62 minutes. And so there is plenty of space for the band to explore more personal, more intimate example of injustice, from the manipulations of an ex-girlfriend (‘Jodie’) through to the anger felt at the passing of a relative (‘Nan’).
There is space, also, for complete diversions. The spoken word piece is the most obvious example. But so is ‘Revolver Dance’, a Western themed tale of a doomed gunslinger voiced by guest vocalist Stuart Turner (who also appears on ‘Thunder’). ‘Gone in the Morning’, a Tom Waits-ish description of the morning after the night before provides a further diversion too.
And there’s plenty of room for grunge-tinged, defeated self-loathing courtesy of ‘Anonymous’ as well (“There’s no way for me to breathe anymore”).
Musically The Lost Art… is a blues-y, boozy assault on the senses, with searing hot guitar solos (see final song ‘City of Sin’) and furiously driven drums and bass. The frenzy is occasionally tempered by acoustic offerings; but even in ‘Jodi’ and ‘Raise Your Flag’, there is enough fury directed at those songs’ monsters, both great and small, that it doesn’t matter that the tunes go unplugged.
For the most part, though, the guitar and bass are well and truly plugged in with amplifiers turned sky high. This is a bilious, bellicose album full of righteous indignation. Perfect for our times.
It will, no doubt, be the cause of much headbanging when performed live, but there’s a pulsating conscience just below the skin of this record demanding attention.
The Lost Art of Being Human is a splendidly humane album, documenting the murky depths of the human soul in its struggles with misfortune and torment. But it’s one hell of a ride too.
Would it be too much to ask for more of this kind of thing?
Find out more about Medway music in Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway (Cultured Llama).