by Jamie Kiffel
Like two lovers driving themselves miserable but unable to get off each other, rock music and politics don’t know whether to fight or fuck. Yet for the most part, musicians who squawk about the bad, nasty government haven’t been allowed within pissing distance of the White House or Parliament steps. Nobody got worked up because they were just poor kids who would likely change their tune if they ever got signed to a major label.
Then, sixteen years ago, came Chumbawamba: A group of idealist punk friends from Leeds who liked to drink and admired The Clash and The Sex Pistols and made noise about how hypocritical their government was. You know, nothing to get worked up about.
But wait, isn’t this the pop band with the hit “I get knocked down, but I get up again…” you know, that one that inspired dancing toy gorillas who sing it when you press their microchip feet? What the hell do they have to do with punk?
Well, outside of London, we don’t hear very much about the wild, politician-taunting punk band that turned into Chumbawamba. All we know is that they had a hit and since then, they’ve put out a couple more albums that weren’t hits (perhaps you’re saying “they did?” as they were hardly marketed in the U.S.), the latest being Readymades. The new album is very catchy and playable. Still, it lacks the teeth-gnashing anger of Tubthumper, with its backwards Hail Mary and lines like “kick your face in so politely.” Its worst flaw is that the words are hard to decipher, the songs are perhaps too gentle for their ideas, and the political ideas Chumbawamba once delivered so acidly are badly obscured.
Yes, the political messages. Chumbawamba is a band of self-proclaimed anarchists who launched themselves by pretending they knew how to play instruments (they didn’t; they borrowed a few and made believe onstage), squatting in a communal flat where they pooled their money and fought over it; carrying anti-war signs, throwing things at politicians and considering fame an insult.
Well Done, Now Sod Off! is their story, and it’s worth viewing (available at www.chumba.com, a site toppling with political commentary). It reveals why Chumba is a problem band. See, they didn’t count on becoming famous. They just kept churning out music and then one day, according to the video, they had a hit. And it seemed damned funny at the time.
But now, they’re a problem because these MTV darlings were once shoplifters without regrets, are still government-haters, they were oinkers against the corporate pigs. They’d picketed for animal rights and become vegans and then fought for people’s rights instead. And now, they’re signed to a major label.
They aren’t 18 anymore and they’re not strutting mohawks all over Leeds, but Chumbawamba’s story is worth knowing. Their new album may not be a hit (not that they care), but Well Done, Now Sod Off! – plus their website – is bound to inspire you to do a double-take at your hypocritical world… and maybe wink at a political band who’s sneaking anarchist messages into the pop public arena through the very capitalist vehicle it despises.