Life in the Loading Bay

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This wasn't supposed to happen. By all rights, Shriekback -- who began in the early-‘80s post-punk era and achieved their greatest level of fame during that decade -- should have been a spent force by now. Instead, they've made one of the finest albums of their career, some 30 years in (albeit with a hiatus or two along the way). After a long period of inactivity, the band spent the first decade or so of the 21st century on something of a roll, releasing one excellent album after another at a relatively rapid clip, and this phase reaches what surely seems like some kind of culmination with Life in the Loading Bay. For as much as the last few releases by the latter-day version of Shriekback -- still led by singer/keyboardist Barry Andrews and guitarist/singer Carl Marsh -- led up to the achievement of Loading Bay, the album still bears strong stylistic ties to the band's previous peak, circa 1985's Oil & Gold. Andrews still sings like the Hannibal Lecter of rock, like he's planning to eat your soul as soon as he's finished laying down his deep, sinister vocals. His lyrical preoccupations still lean toward sleazy sex, reptilian imagery, polysyllabic prose, and a stream-of-consciousness flow. And the band still knows how to wind a hook around an insistent, throbbing pulse. It's just that Shriekback are doing most of these things better than ever here, most likely due to an accumulation of experience as much as anything else. While the band maintains a stylistic consistency across Loading Bay, it's not a monochromatic outing by any means; "Dreamlife of Dogs" bears a hushed, almost ambient dynamic, while "Loving Up the Thing" is percolating, midtempo synth pop, "Now I Wanna Go Home" bears some punky power chords and a growling vocal, and "Pointless Rivers" blends acoustic and electric textures with a gleefully scabrous lyrical thrust, for an effect not far from Nick Cave's Henry's Dream album. Now if only people were still paying even half as much attention to these Brits' brainy but visceral sound as they were back in the days of "Nemesis."

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