This Liverpool quartet take their inspiration from a 1979 England in thrall to The Clash and The Specials, arguably the two bands most responsible for bringing ska and reggae into the bedrooms and lives of white boys. Giddy, spiky, stylish times, those rude boy days were as much a movement as a fashion. The Dead 60's reach back 27 years and cherry pick the finest moments as cues for this debut long-player. For Dead 60's read 'Late 7Os'.
I suppose one person's homage is another person's plagiarism? That they do
it with such accuracy will either impress or irritate, depending on which camp
you're in. The early tracks are steeped in The Clash. Riot Radio, Train
To Nowhere, and We Get Low all rasp Strummer right down to the canine
yelps. I wait to hear Matt McManamon bark out "I live by the Mersey!" but it
never arrives. There's no escaping the excellence of something like Train
To Nowhere or indeed Ghostfaced Killer, on which The Dead 60's leave
their Clash tributes in favour of The Specials Gangsters. Superb, but
then it always was.
The critics have lauded this album. I've seen - 'Energised', 'important', 'essential' - reported in various respected publications. Do they tick all those lofty boxes though? The problem is contextual. In 1979, the economy was in turmoil. The social government of the day had lost control of the Trade Unions. Striking, shortages and blackouts were commonplace. Plus, lurking above the whole vibe of discontent was the ghoulish, inevitable rise of the Right. (Thatcher would sweep to power in 1979, Reagan the year after!) Racism sadly too was rife. In those days, racism was a black and white issue, both literally and metaphorically. As such, the records of that era inevitably acted as a kind of social barometer. What was so notable about the music of The Clash and The Specials beyond their sheer thrill was how they embraced West Indian music and culture. These days we rather take this fusion for granted, perhaps a measure of the progresses we've made. Back then "Two-Tone" was something vital.
Therein lies the key difference. The Dead 60's offer Riots on the radio. We actually had rioting. Not that I'm nostalgic for social unrest. Whether the same undercurrents exist today in difference guises, I'll leave for debate elsewhere. However, the music of 1979 was an education and a rallying cry. Can we really say the same of The Dead 60's, or do they instead offer a breathtakingly skillful pastiche? "Energised"? Certainly. "Important"? Sure, for those starved of their lauded influences. But "essential"?
Let's leave the macrocosm and enjoy the record. The Dead 60's knew the effect they wanted and set about producing it with loving attention to detail. But are they breathing life into a dead scene or merely grave robbing? Even when it meant something, the rude-boy fashion was short-lived, hence my reservations. In Blackjack terms, The Dead 60's are holding 20. They could stick and remain a career tribute band with ease. But if they wish for something both sustainable and meaningful, they are going to have to twist. I just hope there's an ace somewhere.