Do any pop bands write political songs anymore? One might think that in this day and age there would be at least one or two new Billy Braggs with the ability to mix pop and politics. Is everyone afraid to take a trip down the Che Guevara Highway for fear of not selling records in red states? Surely there are a few singers still out there that have an opinion and enough conviction to sing about it. Well, there’s at least one. Finland’s Cats on Fire return with their third album and on it is one of the best political songs I have heard since the Great Leap Forward. 1914 and Beyond chronicles Europe beginning with World War I to the continent’s current state and the European Union’s present-day near collapse. It is set to sad waltzing piano with clear lyrics set to just enough melody to get your attention in case you weren’t paying attention. Once you are, it gets dark, very dark, but it’s totally appropriate for theses tough financial times when old prejudices and hatreds come to a boil after the good times come to an end and money runs out.
All black Shirts to me is not all political, but its title indicates singer Mathias Björkas dour outlook. He’s often been compared to Morrissey, and he still has a delivery that recalls the Moz, but he also has a melancholy that brings to mind Terry Hall and some of the spite in his voice that reminds me of the Auteurs‘ Luke Haines. He certainly knows his way around a melody like those fellows. Songs like It’s Clear Your Former Lover, A Different Light and first single A Few Empty Waves are seemingly delicate things, but show their strength on repeated listening.
Björkas is the focal point of the band, but this album also sees the band expanding its sound. They’ve added a fifth member Iris Viiljanen on Keyboards and have a new drummer in Yrjö Ylijoki. The keyboards add a subtle new dimension and while there really aren’t any upbeat songs as on previous albums, the arrangements are much more lush sounding and interesting which makes All Black Shirts To Me a real winner and possibly Cats On Fire’s finest record yet.
stream: Cats On Fire – 1914 and Beyond
Order up a copy of Cats On Fire’s All Black Shirts To Me from Matinée Recordings.