In that little corner of England where the capital city pukes its guts into the sea, where urbane posturing ends and a stranger and more liminal way of life begins, there is an arts scene that has always had to shout to make itself heard. The area to the south of the Thames – particularly Kent’s Medway towns – was the cradle of the Young British Artists and the garage rock of Billy Childish and Holly Golightly. Further east, Margate beach had long been a site of pilgrimage for amphetamine-spooked mods. To the north, in the seaside towns of Essex, the pub rock scene of the 1970s found a natural home. This was music for dancing and fighting, made by and for young people who didn’t fit in with the region’s prevailing cultural and political conservatism.
At the centre of the pub rock universe were Canvey Island’s Dr Feelgood, a band who drew a line between hard-edged R&B and the nascent punk scene, and who seemed to soundtrack that point in any night out when the fun threatens to spill over into violence. Dr Feelgood didn’t peddle escapism. They confronted reality head-on, but they did so with groove and grit and wit, and to this day they sound great, especially when you’re pissed.
We could do with more bands like that now. And luckily enough we have Eight Rounds Rapid. The quartet are heirs to Dr Feelgood in the most literal of ways – guitarist Simon Johnson is the son of the great Wilko – and they build the same kind of angry energy in those very same Canvey Island boozers. But they aren’t interested in pedigree. In fact, one of Love Your Work‘s defining themes is the need for society to get away from its obsession with nostalgia, an obsession that poisons the music world with shit tribute bands and cash-ins masquerading as heritage acts. Eight Rounds Rapid are a more modern, more thrilling proposition than most of the music you’re likely to here in a pub these days, in Essex or anywhere else.
In terms of influence, they cast their net further than the pub rock scene. This, their third album, begins with the brief and visceral ‘You Wait’, which packs the minimalism of an estuary Buzzcocks, Ian Dury’s spirited vernacular and the pithy ire of The Fall into less than two minutes.
It’s a bracing beginning, but they manage to keep it going. ‘Passive Aggressive’ has a Wire-y post-punk feel to it. Singer David Alexander moves easily from a bratty whine to a vaguely threatening spoken monologue (‘you slimy little prick’) which bears comparison to Leeds tearaways Yard Act or Fleabag-punks Dry Cleaning. ‘Love Don’t’ packs a surprising groove, thanks to a rhythm section of Jules Cooper (bass) and Lee Watkins (drums), while Johnson’s clipped, speedy solos propel everything towards a clattering conclusion. Johnson brings a grainy distortion to ‘Future Estates’, while Alexander deftly itemises suburban ennui.
There are some well-positioned changes of pace too, which show off the band’s knack for a tune: the mid-tempo ‘Letter’ is like a snarly version of Chas and Dave, and ‘Mirror’ almost has an eighties pop shimmer to it, the opening guitar parts going to some distinctly Johnny Marr places. Muscular single ‘Eating’ tackles mindless consumption, while ‘Onesie’ is similarly scathing about selfie culture. Album closer ‘Ageing Athlete’ is an edgy wonder, full of disturbingly distorted applause, adulation morphing into a kind of mental breakdown.
Eight Rounds Rapid are hard to pin down. They’re sharp as fuck, and there is something arty about them – at times they sound like a kind of prolapsed Blur – and yet they are well aware that this kind of music puts energy and anger before intellectual posture. Lyrically, they seem to be sending up everything from Essex car-boy culture to cool kids in band t-shirts to wannabe Guy Ritchie gangsters, but you’re never quite sure whether it is really a send-up or a fond portrait. They’re not a straight-up punk or post-punk band – they’re way too contemporary for that – but neither do they fit into the IDLES/Sleaford Mods bracket. It is a unique combination of highly contemporary lyrical concerns and old-school pub-rocking methods. Love Your Work is spiky and brash, a brilliant example of how original and essential guitar music can be.
Love Your Work is released on 21st August on Tapete Records