Tunbridge Wells duo Slaves are not a band meant for critics. The duo of daft punks never claimed to be innovators within their field, nor are they overly concerned with rattling off a tattoo sleeve’s worth of influences in a bid to win over crusty ex-punks with an inbuilt reverence for old hat. In fact, Slaves rarely seem to think about their own role in the history of anti-authoritarian music at all, which is, of course, the kind of willful anarchic ignorance most of the best punk bands internalised early on.
Much like ‘Take Control’s colourful yet threatening artwork (painted by guitarist Laurie Vincent), Slaves are more like violent cartoons than products of the real world. Isaac Holman’s bellowing vocals drip with vitriol on the likes of ‘Hypnotise’, an angry young white man’s acknowledgment of his demographic’s unflappable apathy in the face of a world used to turning a blind eye to their needs. However, for most of the album’s runtime his tongue is buried too deeply in his cheek to really lash out. The listener might strain their ears to try and pick up on the social satire running under both the automaton-baiting title track and lairy drinking anthem ‘Consume Or Be Consumed’ (which features an electric guest verse from producer and ex-Beastie Boy Mike D). And then Isaac will drop a couplet like “Sometimes I’m online wanking over cyber pork / Other times I’m in your shower sniffing your conditioner” and you’re reminded that this album is far too silly a forum to house informed commentary.
It’s nice to hear a modern act rejecting the use of received pronunciation and exaggerating their accents, even if they sometimes reach Britpop levels of self-parodic absurdity. The loutish ‘Rich Man’ could be ripped straight from Blur’s ‘The Great Escape’, it’s ‘Charmless Man’-aping lyrics exhibiting an everyman quality that’s become a rarity in British rock in recent years. But claiming the ‘average bloke’ mantle also means buying into a culture of machismo in an age where most of the truly great guitar music is created by women or mildly androgynous men. Consequentially ‘Take Control’ can end up feeling like a throwback. There’s a laddish element running through this collection of caricaturish tracks that most of us were happy to see abandon guitar music for pills, Ibiza and EDM back in 2008.
Slaves’ major failing here is that they harnessed their unique vein of testosterone-fuelled garage rock far more adeptly on their previous album. There was a ferociousness to the sledgehammer riffs of ‘Do Something’ and ‘Sockets’ that injected a real sense of purpose into even Isaac’s most infantile lyrics. In comparison ‘Take Control’ seems overlong and half-baked, like the remaining half of Saturday night’s Subway you reheat for Sunday morning’s breakfast. Ultimately, when Slaves asked ‘Are You Satisfied?’ in 2014 the answer should probably have been… “You know what? Yeah.”