Sarah Eve Nichols Fulgham
The Feminist Review
You probably recognize the name Chumbawamba from their hit song “Tubthumping” back in 1997. As you’ll remember: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. And you’re never gonna keep me down.” A lesser known fact is that the group began back in1984 and were leaders in the anarcho-punk movement. With a fan base of anti-mainstream listeners, when Chumbawamba signed with the major label EMI in 1997, they were met with backlash. The move was seen as especially hypocritical since they had participated in a recording project in 1989 that specifically attacked EMI for their corporate methods of business. However, this move brought them a larger audience, and as they saw it, this was the opportunity to more effectively get their message across.
After four years with EMI, they moved away from the corporate music industry and returned to their indie roots. They created their own record label and work with smaller distribution companies and record labels to release their music. The album The Boy Bands Have Won portrays their original purpose in the music industry: to fight the mainstream with songs full of political statements and a variety of musical inspirations.
The packaging of the CD is the first clue as to their intentions. A monologue is written on the cover and folds about how music today has become a cut and paste operation rather than an industry that celebrates creativity and uniqueness. A picture of a printing press illustrates this point.
Upon playing, The Boy Bands Have Won starts with a cool, calm musical opening with sound bites correlating to the written monologue. Up next is the best song from the entire album, “Add Me.” This song is an uptempo, amusing commentary about the quest for friends on social networking sites. It’s about a loser begging to be added to your friends list, while his personal descriptions are unintentionally, though obviously, self deprecating.
The album moves along with beautiful harmonizing and poignant lyrics about issues facing our society, often times poking fun at the situations, other times clearly expressing concern and compassion for the pain that is being endured. “El Fusilado” is an acappella song with a ’50s pop sound all about a guy being shot in a firing line, more of a satire than anything else, whereas “Words Flew Right Around the World” is a slow polka about the rapid spread of media. There is a large musical range exhibited on The Boy Bands Have Won, as well as the range of subject matter.
Chumbawamba may have gone mainstream temporarily in 1997, but that event caused them to gain a larger audience for their messages to be heard. They are back to their old ways now, but the recognition gained through the limelight gives their viewpoints a better opportunity to be received. If you are looking for something outside the mainstream The Boy Bands Have Won will satisfy that desire.