Slaves aren’t ones to hang around. Since 2015, they’ve been releasing albums at a speed almost as fast as their early, full-throttle tunes. For some bands, putting out your third album just three years after the first would spell disaster or – at the very least – mean relying on a tired, uninspiring blueprint.
Happily, that’s not the case on ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’. The Kent-born duo have said in interviews they put more thought into the production side of recording and wrote choruses “on purpose” this time around. That focus is in evidence – not least in how much they accomplish across tracklist that spans just nine tracks. The record also finds them broadening their horizons, taking their breakneck punk into tender, anthemic, brave new territories.
The most noticeable change comes in singer (and stand-up drummer) Isaac Holman’s vocals. You’ll be used to hearing him holler his heart out by now, but there are several songs here where he takes things down several notches and actually sings – properly! – for the very first time. Not going hell-for-leather makes means that the punk waltzes ‘Photo Opportunity’ and ‘Daddy’ (the latter could be a stripped-back Breeders song and features backing vocals from Wolf Alice‘s Ellie Rowsell) are raw in a more emotional way.
Similarly, the band’s humour has taken a different path. If debut album songs such as ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie?’ and ‘Feed The Mantaray’ displayed a surrealist bent that could have pinned the band as music’s answer to The Mighty Boosh, this time around they’ve rooted their comedic leanings in reality. “Poolside poses, but don’t fall in / You’ll remove the golden glow from your otherwise pasty skin,” spits Isaac on ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’, taking shots at society’s obsession with maintaining an “aspirational” Instagram aesthetic. They’re his strongest lyrics yet.
There are serious moments to be had, too. ‘Bugs’ deals with the band’s anger at the government trying to hoodwink “another let down generation” with “inaccurate information“, with Isaac defiantly rasping, “Too late / Fuck you / We’re not having that” over guitarist Laurie Vincent’s beefy, distorted riff. ‘Chokehold’, the song most obviously moulded in Slaves’ old sound, explores post-break-up fragility: “Now I’m lying here, clueless as what to say / ‘Cause now my pillow smells like her hairspray“).
Musically, ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’ is the most accomplished of Slaves’ three albums, switching things up and pulling off new sounds without losing sight of the band’s DNA. In the verses, at least, the title track feels like a less weird take on Blur‘s ‘Essex Dogs’ – though the whirrs and revs of the Britpop heroes’ track are replaced by revolving, spiky guitar lines and tambourine shakes. ‘Photo Opportunity’, though, is the album’s most dynamic moment; Laurie’s fingerpicked verses spiral into an all-out anthemic chorus that would sound properly at home echoing around a packed arena.
The band have made no bones about wanting this album to be the one that propels them into the upper echelons of the live music landscape. That might seem outlandish for a band whose second album didn’t, by their own admission, “blow anyone away”. It appears, though, that ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’ will do just that. We’ll see you down the front when it happens.