Barmy Army

English Disease

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In light of both the hobbyhorse donkeys playing soccer on the cartoon jacket cover and the disparaging band and album names, the unsuspecting listener might take this late-'80s release from the On-U Sound label to be one definitive cheap shot at England's national obsession. But considering the preponderance of English soccer references in the song titles and a dizzying and sympathetic array of game-day samples from crowd chants to broadcast-booth snippets, this Barmy Army album works more as a musical homage peppered with a good-natured jab or two. Politics aside, Barmy Army, like Dub Syndicate and Tackhead, was one of the many bands producer Adrian Sherwood oversaw as head of On-U Sound (the personnel for some of these groups were often interchangeable). Enlisting the help of former Sugar Hill Records house band members -- guitarist Skip McDonald, bassist Doug Wimbish, and drummer Keith Le Blanc -- Sherwood shifts from the reggae and dub-centered sound of his earlier productions to a more rock and electronica-dominated mix here. The results are often riveting and perfect for a few pre-game pints at the pub with your fellow football hooligans. And with the strategic placing of telling fan quotes and "the nature of sport" sound bytes, this love letter also works as a provocative meditation on soccer's place in England's collective social conscience.

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