The Volunteers - 'Know
On the first few listens, 'Know Yourself!' towers above the short term solutions which pass for neon commandments on the 2005 rock and roll hall of fame. I can think of little to compare it to, other than when John Peel used to play drum and bass records at the wrong speed, the singer ranting in tongues, taking on all comers, regardless of any notion of creed or credibility. Directionless anger spread across a hardcore rhythm. However, as repeated listens give the rock and roll lobe of your brain a chance to reconnect it's synapses, so you can cope with the Volunteers pushing EVERYTHING to extremes (as opposed to bands like Coldplay condensing your mind), the record becomes listenable. You realise the lyrics concern little else than what it means to be stuck in 2005, when your ambitions stretch beyond anything time can restrain. You begin to accept that the relentless pounding of a tribal rhythm can reveal a FUTURE, rather than a bleak past. The Volunteers music is brutal, for no other reason than because, sometimes, life is. And if music ever strays beyond the constricted realms of what is and what isn't reality, then it simply becomes redundant.
The basic ideals preached within 'Know Yourself' are righteous. This ain't political, it's simply moral. Just consider their name, all inclusive, regardless of talent or wealth, acting for the force of good, with no one refused or accepted on any grounds beside what is right. I cannot criticise their moral standpoint, but the lyrics come across, occasionally, as dogmatic and preachy. Large parts of the record consist purely of ridiculous generalisations based on little else than the Volunteer's sense of right and wrong, with no conflicting or reserved judgments; "poor neighbourhood bodies for sale, rich neighbourhood no bodies for sale", "people born into wealth they're made up, people born into poverty they're fed up", or even "I don't see black or white i see grey, and thats the way its gonna stay". Whilst I do love a bit of pure conviction, all this seems to prove is that the Volunteers have enough guts and balls to have a moral standpoint, but (sometimes) lack the brain and nervous system to back it up with anything other than swipes at real intellect and empathy. Even if they do see the world in grey instead of black or white, I would have thought that an open-minded aesthetic in 2005 was multicoloured.
But for ever callous assumption there's a moment of such concise clear thinking you could take it as a perfect blueprint for a new utopian society. "Language List", "Positive" and "Fighting" are all 1 minute long diatribes of such high moral fibre they somehow validate the sleevenote's claims ("the Volunteers promote positivity, tolerance, diversity, happiness, selflessness, simple living, harmony with nature, and peace") that a simple rock and roll band could promote values so successfully they would humble everyone from Nelson Mandela to Mother Teresa, and delivered with such conviction and control that rarely exists in the common people, never mind a simple, hardcore rock and roll band. And "TV Dinner" is even the Volunteers rupturing free of their sometimes self enforced musical constraints, and producing a musical and intellectual beacon of such monumental standing within what is essentially a basic hardcore album, like a skyscraper in a village skyline. It's the sound of a band transcending their limitations, and (occasionally tedious) influences, to reach a special place, which has been graced by few, never mind a simple hardcore rock and roll band.
As for the music, there's a Darwinist theory somewhere that suggests all species on Earth, from rats to whales, have roughly the same number of heart beats in their natural lives, and therefore the reason that some live 6 months and some 100 years is the differences in their heart rates. Nature dictates you cannot live fast and live forever. And The Volunteers play fucking fast. It's no wonder then that the album's over after only 20 minutes and 15 tracks. Sometimes, namely on 'I Kill You, You Kill Me' and 'You've Got Everything Money Can Buy But Nothing Money Can't', 'Know Yourself!' becomes (one of the worst things an album could possibly be) tedious. But this is a rarity. They somehow manage to uphold their explosive and brutal edge for the majority of the album, and, as the skippable tracks only last a minute or so, there's little point in doing anything else than listen to the album in it's entirety. There is a danger of the low points threatening the quality of the near perfect majority, like a gappy but beautiful smile. Luckily though, the Volunteers are never smiling.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is the work of a rock and roll band (normally the home of the selfish, the misogynistic, and the money orientated). It exudes tolerance, equality, freedom and all these other abstract nouns bandied around by Bush and Blair, but the difference is The Volunteers actually (gasp) mean it. If you have never been convinced of the righteous powers of rock and roll as a force for good (2005 doesn't exactly illustrate much moral conviction), 'Know Yourself' is your last and best hope. The Volunteers write about a better world for everyone, while most other bands choose to write about puking your guts up bent double on a street corner.
Go off on one about this review on our message boards here