wed 21/02/2024

Album: The Selecter - Human Algebra | reviews, news & interviews

Album: The Selecter - Human Algebra

Album: The Selecter - Human Algebra

Ska perennials are no longer musically groundbreaking but turn in a pleasing set

The venerable ska act pick apart life's rich crossword

To music-lovers of the era, The Selecter are known as part of the 2-Tone ska explosion which blew up as the 1970s turned into the 1980s. The Selecter were right in the middle of that, their eponymous song on the B-side of The Specials’ debut single “Gangsters”, and their own singles, notably “On My Radio” and “Three Minute Hero”, there right at the start.

What will be more surprising to most is that they’ve been almost consistently producing music since. This is their 16th studio album.

Frontwoman Pauline Black has become an iconic figure in her own right, a polymath, awarded an OBE last year for services to music. The Selecter remain at the centre of what she does, alongside original members “Gaps” Hendrickson and “Aitch” Bembridge. They recently toured their underrated second album, 1981’s Celebrate the Bullet (which tanked at the time due to its title), but immediately return with Human Algebra, tackling meaty subject matter to a lilting ska backing.

Musically the album offers up few surprises, aside, perhaps, from the epic title track. Overall, it's sweeter-natured sonically than their sometimes edgier early material, but they retain post-punk’s attention to social messaging. This ranges from the desperate and catchy post-Black Lives Matter anthem “Stay Rebel” (“Like a raisin in the sun/Our dreams went dry/The course of justice never runs true until men die”) to the title track’s observational lyrics about knife crime.

Sometimes the lyrics are trite, as on the wittily titled but clunky “Armchair Guevara”, about trolling online idiots. That said, it’s also one of the albums punchiest tunes. Highlights include the gently appealing “Boxing Clever” (“Something that I said went wrong inside your head”), the problem booze-centric “Depends” and “War War War”, the latter especially featuring Hendrickson’s vocals. Black is on particularly fine singing form throughout, especially on the title track. The whole album, while almost completely for devotees, has righteous spirit and is going to cause joy and dancing in venues and festival fields throughout the land in 2023.

Below: Watch the video for "Human Algebra" by The Selecter

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