Perfect Sound Forever

Trapped Animal

Vivien Goldman dissects their reunion record
(December 2009)

This truly her-storical album marks the return to the studio of the Slits, London's original wild girls of punk. Yes, call it a major comeback, because on Trapped Animal the core Slits possee of dynamo singer Ari-Up and bassie Tessa Pollitt, now grown women, join forces with a new generation of junior Slits, Hollie Cook, singer/keyboard player, drummer Anna Schultz, guitarist Adele Wilson and part-time Slit, Ana Ozawa to form what Ari describes on 'Reggae Gypsy' as "a tribal warrior princess, gathering a tribe of tribal woman warriors, breaking down the barriers..."

Three decades after their raucous birth, the Slits are the undisputed godmothers of every feisty female from Madonna to the riot grrrrls, Pink and Lily Allen. Witty and provocative, the glory of Trapped Animal proves what the faithful always believed -- the Slits are the real deal and the Trapped Animal is all of us.

Steered by dubmaster Adrian Sherwood, the Slits' sound voyages into a free zone of extravagant texture and timing. In this sonically splendiferous, cinematic soundscape, the Slits' dub-based beat both defines punk and transcends it. Mind-bending dub sections illuminate tracks like "Babylon," a deep roots steppers track, the album's only cover, which puts our cynical system in its place. Most of the tracks are composed by the legendary dreadlock'd Ari-Up, who famously co-founded the band with Viv Albertine in 1976 when she was fourteen years old.

"All my life I have felt trapped, fighting for my freedom," says Ari. After the Slits went their separate ways in the early 1980's, she went to live among the tribes in the jungle in Borneo -- just as their ancestral hunting grounds were being seized. "They were amazing free spirit people," she recalls. Her next incarnation was as a dancehall queen in the Kingston, Jamaica ghetto, re-named Madusa. Ari's urge for liberation courses throughout Trapped Animal, blasting an uncut view of human relationships so frank it's startling. Lyrically, Trapped Animal is a savagely realistic, fiercely funny testament to everything these women have learned since their stormy saga began.

Compulsive and insanely catchy, the group's wicked grooves march head on into serious topics like "Issues," about how people deal with abuse, and healing anti-love songs like "Ask Ma" and "Partner From Hell." Though Ari might seem to sing to a man, as she says, the ideas can apply to either gender: "If abuse is going on, let's not say it's just down to either man or woman." For happier gender delight, Ari also supplies the tongue-in-cheeky eroticism of "Lazy Slam," one of the best ever evocations of how females really feel about sex.

One of the most exciting aspects of the record is the stubborn continuity, the way these women were compelled to continue their artistic explorations -- and how their tribe of "musical prophets" has grown. Bassie Tessa Pollitt traveled the deserts of Sudan and became a judo instructor in her time out from the Slits. She says of their re-formation, "I couldn't think of the Slits without Ari. And Hollie (whose parents are Paul Cook, Sex Pistols' drummer and Jennie, singer of Two Tone band, the Belle Stars) is like the baby of the Slits and the Pistols. Reggae is in her blood." Pollitt's own eerie, film noir songs "Can't Relate" and "Had A Day" with their jazzy echoes of Kurt Weill's Berlin cabaret operettas, add a dark neo-emo gothic feel perfect for our disjointed times.

The positive energy generated by the Slits changed everything for the band's youngest new member, Hollie Cook. After experiencing disillusion in her previous flirtations with the music business, Hollie says, "I had no confidence to write songs. Really, the Slits liberated me." The sweet lover's rock of "Cry Baby" is Hollie's first song and it makes you want more. And Anna Ozama, a part-time Slit, contributes a plaintive track in Japanese, "Be It," ensuring that the Slits live up to their "outernational" promise.

When the band began, radio DJ's refused to say their name on the air. When the Slits performed on the 'White Riot' tour in 1977 with their cohorts, the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the bus driver had to be bribed to carry these crazy chicks. "Outcasts of the outcasts, with horizons so vast" is how Ari describes their relationship to society, let alone the pop world, on "Reggae Gypsy" a dancehall flamenco statement of identity and intent that is in many ways the soul of this record. The bouncy ska of "Peer Pressure" details Ari's alienation, even when she was at school.

The Slits released three albums, the seminal CUT (produced by Dennis Bovell, it's one of just fifty albums from their vast catalog to be re-issued by Island/Universal as part of their 50th Anniversary tribute) as well as the Return of the Giant Slits, with its jazzier post-punk feel, the much-loved live sessions from Britain's progressive John Peel radio show. Some tracks were also released on the indie label Rough Trade.

For all their originality and large cultural influence and contribution, the Slits have always remained proud outsiders, underground rebels with an attitude that now looks to be eternal. But there had never been anything like the Slits before, and their energy was an eruption of fresh invention, fuelled by the sort of struggle they sing about with such assurance in "Pay Rent." The Slits' youthful flourish attains full fruition on Trapped Animal's astounding cycle of songs. On the powerful surge of "Can't Relate," Ari's keening vocal says it right: "It's a Slits virus... infectious, infectious, infectious..."

Also see our earlier Slits tribute and another article about the Slits reunion and our interview with Viv Albertine

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