Return of the Giant Slits
[CBS; 1981; r: Blast First (Petite); 2007]
Return of the Giant Slits is a slippery, glorious mess that will infuriate anyone expecting the Slits to revisit their debut. The nervous energy that powered Cut is seemingly replaced with a relaxed smoked-out vibe that belies the group putting their Jamaican influences-- as well as their interest in other world musics-- front and center. At times, this might make the record sound like aimless noodling, the band just biding time on the label's dime while someone behind the mixing board packs a new bowl. However, while this tact has little in common with the pogo grind essayed by their more traditional punk rock contemporaries, they're right in line with the off-the-wall antics of their more open-minded countrymen, like This Heat and especially the Pop Group. For Return, it's not a case of less energy, but repurposed energy.
The inclusion of Pop Group drummer Bruce Smith in the group has a lot to do with the album's success. He provides a deceptively primal backbeat that meshes perfectly with the odd angles the group explores. On "Earthbeat", he pounds out a simple tribal beat, a fine backdrop for the song's two-note bass motif and Ari's environmentally-conscious warbling. He's just as comfortable providing a grounding rocksteady shuffle for "Difficult Fun" and "Or What It Is?" as he is following the group's shambling muses into the ether (as on "Animal Space/ Spacier"). Viv Albertine's guitar playing, already fragmented and skittish, is even more skeletal here, her scratches and stabs flitting about the record's periphery (aside from some wah-wah work on "Walkabout"). On the other hand, Return's rhythmic bent allows Tessa Politt's loping and nimble basslines to take center stage. And amidst the flourishes of melodica and trumpet is Ari Up's unmistakable croon, attacking the songs the way one would expect a five-year-old to approach them-- shamelessly singing notes for the sake of the notes instead of for the sake of some stodgy old melody. While the lyrics, moving from personal to global concerns, might not pack as much punch as they once did-- don't hurt yourself trying to delve deep into song-long couplets like "Difficult fun is hard to come by/ And empty fun is easy to find"-- it's the way she's saying what she says that matters most. Return of the Giant Slits isn't as easy to love as its predecessor, but it could turn out to be the more rewarding album of the two.
Unfortunately, the extras tacked onto Return might make that reward seem less valuable. Finally having this album in print is a blessing in and of itself, and the label's dedication to offering folks everything related to Return is commendable from a completist's standpoint. Unfortunately, there's not much in the vaults, which is why the eight-track bonus disc contains FIVE versions of "Earthbeat". Offering just "Dub Beat" (which sounds as you would expect) and the version from the "Earthbeat" 12" (which three minutes to the original's running time) would have been plenty. But why stop there when you can have a version sung in Japanese that sounds just like the 12" version, a version sung in German that sounds like the Japanese version, and an "extra" version that sounds almost exactly like the version on the album proper? And then there's a twelve-minute radio interview where the group (stopping off during a U.S. tour) treat almost every caller with charming disdain and disrespect. It's a cute curio, but might be worth only one listen, if that. A more judicious compiler could have gotten away with grabbing the aforementioned good "Earthbeat" outtakes, the re-dubbing of "Face Place", and the re-dubbing of "In The Beginning, There Was Rhythm", and fit them nice and snug onto the end of the disc containing the proper album. Of course, this re-issue is aimed squarely at the sorts of folks that probably want to hear Ari Up sprachen zie deutsch, so better to err on the side of offering too much. And given that this is the first time in twenty-six years that the album's been available on CD outside of Japan, letting a few dull outtakes spoil the album proper is just silly.
-David Raposa, March 13, 2008