The North-East's latest gruff punk heroes return!
This latest Bear Trade release, Silent Unspeakable, delivers what many albums try to do but very few achieve. It's a nuanced, clever and complex collection of songs whose secrets lie deep within it; and like any great album will most likely lead to a variety of interpretations and theories over coming years.
On the surface, it's clear any expectation weighing on The Bears hasn't impacted on their ability to put together a series of honest, personal and reflective songs that will only further enhance their reputation as one of the UK's finest exponents of heartfelt punk rock. Yet dig a little deeper and it's clear this is a very clever, articulate and passionate if somewhat nostalgic album that deals with British society. To fully appreciate this it’s best to start at the end.
Closing the album is "Transgressions in the Toy Shop"', an incredibly sombre and reserved song, delivered in a stripped down manner. It's a serious song, describing the state of the UK following Brexit. It's this poignant song that helps provide the context and helps bring the album full circle; take closing lines "All aboard the world, a ship with no sail and no anchor … that's the worst part cast me off", then opening line on the first track ("Sea Legs") "Not waving, but drowning…". This relationship with the sea is critical to the economy and life in the North East, and the album lives and breathes in the North of England in the best possible way, however these two songs in particular provide an external context of what is happening in the world at this moment in time and I'm certain this is a way of Bear Trade flashing their political teeth and saying how the decision to leave the EU will affect us all. The magic of the album is to bookend itself with these two songs but in between tell personal introspective stories of life and love that can be all affected by these external factors. It provides glimpses into real life with real people and situations that are all in some way affected by this bigger picture. Yes it's an honest album, but it's about doing the right things, admitting our mistakes and supporting each other and it deals with this subject matter majestically.
Aside from the aforementioned songs there are some notable highlights to enjoy; "As Long As We Have Tea" is possibly my favourite track on the album. From the quintessentially Britishness of the title, it's a massive song about being in love that plays to the strengths of the whole band. Personally I love the hi-hats in the bridge, it ratchets up the tempo slightly and really grabs attention but everything from the solo to the vocal delivery is done with care and passion and it shows how heartfelt this song is. "Family Planning" is another highlight, sitting in the middle of the album its opening lines remind us of the context of the album ("I'm sick of reading the news because this news is not news"), yet is really another personal monologue about growing up and not letting the future pass you by, all wrapped up with their big driving guitars and likeable north-east tinged vocals. In fact this personal approach to many of the songs helps give an insight into what real life is like for The Bears; "Bibojibs" is written about hot chilli sauce videos and is really a homage to the wonderful things family do (check out the Bear Trade Facebook page for more on this). It's moments like this and "Good But Best", dealing with the illness of a loved one, that give the album a beating heart. "Silent Unspeakable" covers a full range of human emotions and the wonder of life in such a poetic and passionate way that it requires repeated listens to fully appreciate.
Following debut album "Blood and Sand" was never going to be easy; it's an instantly catchy and accessible album, one that repeatedly finds its way on to my iPod. What Bear Trade have delivered with this follow up is truly something special; it's the sign of a band perfecting their craft but not straying too far from the formula that worked so well first time round. It's still fast, it's still gritty at times, it has all the fist-in-the-air moments delivered by songs like "Charge" or "Son of the Manse" just delivered with more guile and confidence.
Bear Trade have previously said they play sad punk for happy drunks. Certainly many of the songs deserve to be heard in a live environment where the beer is flowing, surrounded by friends and on the basis of this release I'm certain they will be making many new ones!
Stream and download Silent Unspeakable here: https://beartrade.bandcamp.com/album/silent-unspeakable
Like Bear Trade here: https://www.facebook.com/beartradeband/
This review was written by Richard Mair.