Headsticks’ previous studio album, Kept In The Dark, came not so much as a breath of fresh air as a veritable hurricane. C.O.W. – the band’s fourth album – seems slightly restrained by comparison but that’s no bad thing. They may speak a little more softly but they still carry a big stick. Think of them as the heirs of Levellers and The Clash.
Lead vocalist Andrew Tranter is responsible for the lyrics and he has a punk-rock voice that carries them perfectly. He shares composing credits with guitarist Stephen Dunn, bassist Nick Bayes and drummer Tom Carter who provide such a solid foundation. Tom wrote one song, ‘Speak Out’, and is also responsible for the recording, mixing and mastering and has done a superb job in keeping Andrew’s voice well up front without losing the band’s fundamental energy.
The opening track, ‘Red Is The Colour’ takes a swipe at ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’. Wilfred Owen knew it was a lie and said so and Headsticks simply modernise Owen: “Red is the colour of the cruelest lies” – what else is there to say? ‘Peace And Quiet’ turns its attention to environmental matters and, in passing, religion with the ironic line, “Don’t predict a riot!”. ‘Miles And Miles’ and ‘A Tear For Yesterday’ both find Andrew in nostalgic mood but there is an underlying anger in them. I won’t even attempt to unpick the motivations behind these songs for a while yet. ‘Tyger Tyger’ returns to environmental concerns; it’s inspired by Blake, of course, but the only thing taken from the poem is the spelling.
Despite its title, ‘This Ain’t Politics’ is just that and is prescient in predicting the current controversy about the right to protest or even hold an opinion while ‘Naked’ tackles the main-stream media and both ‘Red Sky’ and ‘Burn’ return to the environmental crisis, in particular the ultimate result of climate change.
‘Opium’ is an almost quiet, almost acoustic song which is immediately challenged by Tom’s snarling guitar introduction to ‘Speak Out’ a song which cleverly updates Christy Moore’s ‘Yellow Triangle’ for the 21st century. Finally we have the harrowing, visceral ‘Sing Danny Boy’, a song – actually a spoken word piece over bass and percussion – about child abuse. I’m told that this is not one man’s story and for that I’m very grateful but it is put together from several recollections and turned up the max. It requires a strong stomach.
You may be curious about the title; what can C.O.W. mean? I, too, was curious so I asked. The title is meant to be an enigma but I can give you a clue – when you get your copy, look carefully at the markings on the animal. It’s particularly clear on the front of the lyric booklet.
‘Naked’ (the first single) – official video:
Read Tony Birch’s review of Kept In The Dark here.