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Weapon Called the Word is the first album released by the Levellers and unbelievably is 20 years old. Marking this anniversary, the Levellers played the album in its entirety, including B-sides, at the Beautiful Days Festival in August this year. I've seen the Levellers almost 50 times and never ever get bored of them, but their Beautiful Days headline act this year truly blew me away.
1. World Freak Show
A lively tune with lyrics listing all the ills of the time, with a catchy chorus, this is a great song, however, things are about to get much better!
2. Carry Me
This is one of the best Levellers songs ever. It starts off with wonderfully simple guitar, then harmonica and violin come in to produce a song that sounds like a traditional folk song about friendship and community until you get to the swearing in the middle as well - I love it, and I love the fact that BBC Radio didn't notice it when they played it! The Levellers must have played this thousands of times, yet each time they put heart and soul into it whenever they perform it, and like their fans, never tire of it. It's a rousing, heart warming anthem for our times with a gorgeous chorus, made for campfires and beaches. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
Just how does Jon play the violin so vigorously on this song? Another up tempo song about society and slogging your guts out to make other people rich. Timeless.
4. Together All the way - On one occasion I cried when the Levellers played this song. Another anthem about standing up for yourself and not being governed by the system. It's another Levellers anthem which makes you feel nostalgic inside. Wonderful.
5. Barrel of the Gun
A song about the shooting of three suspected IRA members in Gibraltar. This is a great song with stonking guitar, which has recently been updated with a catchy violin intro at their live gigs.
6. Three Friends - I remember as a youngster listening to this, thinking it was like three songs in one and marvelling as the violin soars to fantastic heights, set against Mark Chadwick's minimalist vocals.
7. I have no answers - a great political song, with a punky chorus.
8. No change - a simple, but powerful song with guitar, violin and vocals -sung live this will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Another political themed song about governments being all the same.
9. Blind Faith - one of the many things I love about the Levellers is the fact that they have always been green. They're not just "seen to be green", they believe it and have lived that way long before it became fashionable, even ensuring their tours were carbon neutral two decades ago. This song highlights that, with a strong warning about the future of the planet and the implication on future implications, which is more relevant today than when it was written 20 years ago.
10. The Ballad of Robbie Jones - sung on the album by Alan Miles before he left and was replaced by Simon Friend, this is a touching story about a normal young lad who gets called up to join the army during the Falklands War. A simple song, similar in content to Another Man's Cause on Levelling the Land, it starts with a touchingly pared back violin intro which underlines the simple life of Robbie Jones turned upside down by his papers arriving, summoning him to war.
11. England My Home. WOW! What a song! Seeing this live, with the gravity defying violin intro is an amazing experience. How Jon plays this on the violin, and leaps around is just incredible. The song is an ode to this beautiful country we live in, and how we're spoiling it, set to an electrifying tune. Brilliant all the way to the last spine-tingling lament; "What happened to my green and pleasant land?"
12. What you Know! This often provides the finale to Levellers' shows and is an up-tempo folk classic. I defy you to listen to this and not dance around like a muppet! More excellent violin and great lyrics, this should be on everyone's iPod. Never ever fails to put a smile on my face, this one.
13. Social Insecurity - a song about the vulnerable in society, this is a live track performed by Simon Friend and Mark Chadwick. I think I actually cried when I heard this live at Beautiful Days!
14. Cardboard Box City - an amazing song which I think equals Ralph McTell's Streets of London for poignancy and guitar prowess. Again, just Simon Friend and Mark Chadwick performing this, with their guitars reaching such a beautiful harmony and oneness.
This is simply a must-have album. My partner and I while away thousands of hours listening to this, or if we're not listening to it, we might be discussing whether it's better than Levelling the Land - we still can't decide!!
Now I do not normally post more than one review per day, but have done so today for two reasons.
Firstly, I have stirred up some pretty negative emotions with a Robbie Williams swing album...post modern irony there folks!!
Secondly, I have had this review ready and waiting for Dooyoo to accept my 'suggestion' for some time.
A Weapon Called the Word - The Levellers
This was the Levellers first album proper (1990), and in my opinion only surpassed musically by their 2nd album. This album however remains my favourite Levellers offering. Mainly because of it's raw power and energy. This was released at the height of the Levellers' festival appearance era. It seemed like no festival was complete without them, and they were very busy at venue gigs too. They were the ultimate student 'crustie' punk/Celtic political band of the time.
I have to say, whether it was deliberate or not in terms of recording, my CD does not have the best sound quality on all tracks, particularly tracks 1, 3, 5, and 8.
1. World Freakshow
Great opening track where we get to hear the whole band playing quite dramatically and frantically, great lyrics, great energy, you just know that the album is going to be good after this. 8/10.
2. Carry Me
The nearest the Levellers get to having their own 'anthem'. Harmonica, fiddle, drums, guitars, an energetic track that is political and yet fun at the same time. I remember being at several concerts where the band stopped playing at the chorus and the audience were singing it. Top track 9/10.
Very hectic guitars and fiddle again, yet a really well controlled vocal over the top, story about the 'rat race'. Good, but not great. 7/10.
4. Together All The Way
Another anthem like song, this time a fair bit more 'folky'. Okay again, not great again. 6/10.
5. Barrel of the Gun
Brilliant track telling the story of the three IRA members shot by the SAS in Gibraltar. Very atmospheric, guitar and vocals for most of the track. Very controversial and a classic track from the band. 9/10.
6. Three Friends
Very interesting almost trance like use of fiddles and guitars, quite different from much of the album. I would say quite drug influenced and heavily influenced by the late night early morning festival goers. 7/10.
7. I Have No Answers
I love the music and the sentiments in this track, very political, very anti government, seems to get faster and more furious until an explosion of every instrument played at breakneck speed as a finale, great stuff. 9/10.
8. No Change
Very strong vocals, music is only playing a supporting role in this. As the title suggests, bit of a rant against the rich and powerful. 7/10.
9. Blind Faith
Really nice musically this: very controlled from the lead vocalist and it feels like the drummer is egging on the fiddle player, who in turn spurs the drummer, who is trying to keep it as measured as the vocal. Really nice this. 8/10.
10. The Ballad of Robbie Jones
One of my favourite Levellers track, by no means their most accomplished. Tells the story of Robbie Jones, clearly from a small town, guitar player, drinker...goes off to war in the Falklands. Not quite a 'sweet' track, but a nice story. This could have been sung to an old tune, in an inn hundreds of years ago, really folk like, yet also contemporary. Fantastic chorus that stays with you. 9/10.
11. England My Home
Aside from 'Carry me' the Levellers other claim to having an 'anthem'. The band trying to sing about their patriotism in a non fascist way, speckled with criticisms of their homeland. Rousing chorus. 8/10.
12. What You Know
Almost country & western this, rousing beat, not my favourite however. 5/10.
13. Social Insecurity (live)
Hate this, self indulgent, great guitars, throaty vocals, even good lyrics, but all a bit clichéd for me. 3/10.
14. Cardboard Box City (live)
Now I do like this. All about the squatting/homeless scene in London particularly contrasted with what was a time of 'yuppies' and regeneration of deprived areas. Acoustic guitar, drums and a great vocal. What I especially like about it is the fact that it is 'flawed', they get some words wrong, not in time sometimes and it makes it even better. This is a song from the heart and from experience. At the time this came out, a few mates and I were living in a squat as we were skint students, and we thought that this was all about us and our lives, poor sods that we thought we were!! 9/10.
15. Three Friends (remix)
Personally I don't see the need for this track. It is not 'different' enough from track 6. 6/10.
Raw, full of energy, political, controversial, a bit different from what was around at the time. All in all a great album for any collection. Great debut album from a band that managed to transfer some of the charisma and energy that they have when performing live, to a recording, not an easy task.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 World Freak Show
2 Carry Me
4 Together All The Way
5 Barrel Of The Gun
6 Three Friends
7 I Have No Answers
8 No Change
9 Blind Faith
10 Ballad Of Robbie Jones
11 England My Home
12 What You Know
13 Social Insecurity
14 Cardboard Box City
15 Three Friends (1)