Boxset Review: U.K. Subs - 2006-2016 The Jet Age
Reviewed by Dan Banres
One of the original ’76 Punk bands, U.K. Subs have been a staple on the scene since, led throughout by the inimitable and seemingly indestructible Charlie Harper, they became one of the defining bands of their era. Having released a steady stream of studio records, extended players, live discs and compilations since 1979, up to and including last year’s Reverse Engineering, the ‘Subs is a band with nothing left to prove.
To quote Geoffrey Chaucer: all good things must come to an end; and with Mr Harper staring down the barrel of his eightieth birthday next May – the same date our very own editor in chief, but definitely nowhere near the same year (I have to put that qualifier in or I’d be forced to review Nickelback records) – it’s finally time for the U.K. Subs to park up the tour bus and enjoy their retirement.
That said, there’s one last set of touring to do, including shows at both North West (back in June) and North East (this coming September) Callings, Rebellion Festival and the autumn shows that will bring the curtain down on a long and distinguished career.
Before the end comes, those good folk at Cherry Red Records have collected the five ‘Subs’ records from the time when Jet Taniguchi slung the six strings for the band between the years of 2005 and 2016, joining Charlie, bassist Alvin Gibbs and drummer Jamie Oliver (not that one).
Disc one is probably my personal favourite U.K. Subs records outside of the first two albums, Work in Progress from 2011, the band’s first new album in almost a decade. For this release, Cherry Red and included the long-deleted single, 666Yeah and the mini-album Warhead 2008.
But before those, we get to listen again to some of U.K. Subs’ best modern work, beginning with the rousing stomp of Creation, the existential angst of Hell Is Other People and the punk swagger of Radio Unfriendly. All see the band in fine form with Jet slotting into guitar duties like he was always meant to be there.
But a ‘Subs’ record wouldn’t be complete without a host of variation and Work in Progress has that in spades; whether it be romantic Toyko Rose, the bluesy Eighteen Wheels or the post-punk All Blurs into One, all sit comfortably among the more expected yield of The Axe, Rock N’ Roll Whore and Strychnine.
2006 single 666Yeah is included here as a bonus track and sits more in U.K. Subs more abrasive sound but does include a harmonica moment from Mr Harper.
The five tracks of Warhead live at the end of the Work in Progress disc and see this incarnation of the band approaching afresh some old and some new material. I Live in a Car, from the debt, sounds more pissed-off than on Another Kind of Blues, while Warhead has a slightly different vibe going on. That spreads across the other three, more modern, songs Creation, Straighten Out and Knuckleduster.
In keeping with U.K. Subs’ intention to issue an album with a title after the next consecutive letter of the alphabet, 2013 saw the February release of XXIV and that makes up Disc Two of this set. The bulk of this one are mid-paced punk classics: Speed has an uneasy guitar and a skipping drum, Stare at the Sun leans into the modern sound of some of the US bands and Garden of Good and Evil is all about that chorus.
Charlie brings the harmonica into play on Wrecking Ball and Jet cuts loose during Detox. Elsewhere, the ‘Subs bring the ferocity though the uncompromising Implosion 77, Rabid and Monkeys; whilst the ire wears a political cloak for Coalition Government Blues, Black Power Salute and Workers Revolution.
Of note on this disc is the inclusion of Workers Beer Company, a studio out-take available for the first time on CD, sounding for all the world like a snotty Oi! anthem.
Yellow Leader from 2015 makes up Disc Three and for the most part feels less exploratory than its predecessors. That’s doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to be excited about on this one. Early on, Yellow Leader is mid-paced with hints of Gothic scratching through on Sick Velveteen and Artificial; Bordeaux Red comes over like The Stranglers and The Damned have collaborated and it isn’t really until the fast and furious Heathens rears its head that the ‘Subs’ old-school fury is unleased.
Virus continues the hard-paced numbers, Slave rages against capitalism and Sin City Blues takes us back to the barroom setting. Just to show their versatility as musicians, Charlie picks up the bass for the cinematic Archaeology, Jamie vacates the drum stool while he straps on a guitar for the delicately picked acoustics of Rebellion Song and Alvin adds a B and an E to his strings for the not-so politically correct Feed the Whore.
The intention to use every letter of the alphabet reached fruition in 2016 with Ziezo. If the band were intending to call it quits at this point then they certainly have been going out on a high. Polarisation comes out of the blocks swinging, with the band returning to those gritty punk roots; I’ve Got a Gun and This Machine keeps the UK82 vibes high and gives Ziezo a more raw and aggressive edge.
There’s a distinctly Oi! feel to Oligarchy, Evil vs Evil and Rise, with the spirit of the streets and The Last Resort shining through; City of the Dead employs a bit of Ska to add further to the diversity of approach.
Rest assured, for Charlie and the boys haven’t abandoned everything for one last hurrah, and the classic U.K. Subs sound can be heard on World War III, I Don’t Care, Maid of Orleans and the Lydon-sounding vocals of Master Race.
The fifth and final disc of this collection is Acoustic XXIV, a record previously only available as a limited CD pressing of the XXIV album, now including an additional, thirteenth song, Hard Times Café.
The Jet Years shows Jet Taniguchi’s tenure in the band was a time when U.K. Subs somehow managed, after thirty years of playing, to capture the magic of Another Kind of Blues and Brand New Age. Of course, Ziezo was not to be the final studio album, as 2022’s Reverse Engineering proved, but there comes a time when even legends must retire, put their feet up and reflect on a job well done.
The U.K. Subs will leave a huge hole in the Punk scene at the end of this tour as, not only have they been one of the seminal bands of the genre, they have influenced and even nurtured musicians who have gone on to bigger things: Gizz Butt of English Dogs and The Prodigy and Lars Frederiksen of Old Firm Casuals and Rancid to name but two of many. Rest well, Subs, rest well.