Oysterband, The Shouting End of Life
(Cooking Vinyl, 1995)

Gunpowder, whisky, falling off the wire,
anything could put me in that ever-after choir
Hacks that want to see me shuffle off the shelf
I hand them each a bottle, I say: Go fuck yourself. "The Shouting End of Life"

With The Shouting End of Life, the Oysterband has put its collective foot down firmly on the rock side of the folk-rock equation. This isn't a bad thing, though purists may wonder where the trad covers like "Rambling Irishman" have gone. TSEOL is all Oyster originals, with the exception of a scorching cover of Leon Rosselson's "World Turned Upside Down" and Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time." Several tracks seem to teeter on the edge of chucking the folk idiom altogether. Furthermore, the Oysters' political agenda has never been more exposed, and they're not suggesting sit-ins. No more goofy pseudo-Celtic images on this one; the picture on the inside cover of the CD booklet shows a pierced and mohawked punk spitting beer on a cop at an anti-Criminal Justice Bill demonstration.

So what is left from Freedom and Rain or Holy Bandits on The Shouting End of Life? All of the good stuff, frankly. This album is angry, aggressive, and most of all, loud, but it manages to keep the gleefully flippant word play of the lyrics front and center. The playing, particularly Ian Telfer's violin work, has never been faster or tighter -- he's inching up on Josef Kessler territory. The production, by Pat Collier, isn't clean, but it does capture the punch of the band's propulsive rhythms with just enough edge to get the feet moving.

What everything comes back to, though, is the incredible rage that surges through the album's entirety. Between the dire warnings that it's "Jam tomorrow -- shit today!" and admonitions for critics to perform anatomical impossibilities, there's a fair bit of profanity masking a sense of patience run out. There's anger here for the land that's being exploited in "We'll Be There," anger at all the naysayers in "The Shouting End of Life," anger at Thatcher's economic blunders in "Jam Tomorrow," and a final glorious extension of the collective middle finger with "World Turned Upside Down." Yes, there are a handful of ballads ("Put Out the Lights" stands out), but even they're tinged with bitterness and regret. Even when romance stands out as a beacon of hope (as in "Long Dark Street,") it's the contrast with the rest of the decaying world that's brought out.

There are a few quibbles to be had with TSEOL, to be sure. The cover art is possibly the least appealing I've seen since Cat Scratch Fever, and the combination of drab colors and flat-out ugly imagery is likely to send the casual browser screaming into the night. "Don't Slit Your Wrists For Me," a second stab at "Blood Wedding" territory , comes off a bit forced when the love interest's father is described as "purple and insane." The opening track, "We'll Be There," is aggressively reminiscent of "Gone West" on Holy Bandits. However, these are minor worries, more suited to a debate over the relative merits of Oysterband albums than to the decision as to whether or not to pick up TSEOL. It's not a happy album. It's not even a friendly album, but it is a good, damn near great album.

[Richard Dansky]