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And Best Of All... Hope Street
Two CDs here, one a 'best of' and the other comprised of a dozen brand new outpourings from one of the legendary Northern bands of the punk era, paint a graphic sonic picture of Belfast's social eruptions.
Jackie Hayden, 03 Mar 1999
Two CDs here, one a 'best of' and the other comprised of a dozen brand new outpourings from one of the legendary Northern bands of the punk era, paint a graphic sonic picture of Belfast's social eruptions. Stiff Little Fingers are one of the few Irish who deal head-on with Irish politics. For this they are wrongly damned by some, as if artists should ignore the very issues that fuck up their lives.
In fact the 'best of' kicks off with two tracks that justify buying the whole explosive package - the incendiary slab of stuttering politico punk that is 'Suspect Device', and the agit-pop of 'Alternative Ulster', both slammed along by bad-tempered guitars and the sandpaper voice of Jake Burns. The latter track is of such ranting ferocity in its response to the "troubles" that the efforts of others, such as U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday', wilt by comparison.
Although the rest of the 'best of' does not quite reach such greatness, it goes way beyond mere sloganeering. Occasionally the aggro actually declares a ceasefire to be replaced by a nifty run-through of 'Love Of The Common People' or a cod doo-wop interlude in 'Barbed Wire Love'. All in all, the collection is a mammoth anthology of intimidating rants delivered with a neurotic intensity that encapsulates the agony of Belfast's disaffected youth like nothing else.
But that was then. Hope Street, the new album, with former Jamster Bruce Foxton still in evidence, has a more optimistic post-ceasefire mellowness, although there's still enough fire and anger here to teach pimply contenders like The Hormones and The Young Offenders a thing or ten. Rage has given way to a subtler sound midway between the chirpiness of Britpop and SLF's more astringent neighbours, Ash. 'Honeyed Words' recalls the golden syrup of The Byrds, while 'You Can Get It' gives the Jimmy Cliff classic a joyful blast that shakes out some cobwebs. 'Half A Life Away' is a handsome slice of folk-metal and 'All I Need' boxes both your ears and doesn't even stop to say sorry.
'Bulletproof' even has a powerhouse Stonesy swagger that reminds you how real bands with real guitars used to sound. And what's this? It's the reggaed-up 'Last Train From Belfast' and it actually takes a kindly look at the place! Steady on there, Jake!
So take heart. The Stiffies haven't gone away you know.