Dub Pistols ADD
Album Review: Dub Pistols - Frontline
by Steve Topple
Having recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, UK-based Dub Pistols are delivering a fresh album, too – perfectly summing up a quarter of a century in the music industry.
Frontline, released via Cyclone Records, sees the band draw on a whole host of talent across 12 tracks. The roster of featured artists is appropriate, given the fact Dub Pistols’ own line-up has changed over the years. However, what really stands out is the sheer diversity of sounds on display and the quality that’s maintained throughout (oh, and a Western theme, too). Not that we should be surprised, given the pedigree of Dub Pistols – moreover, nor should we be surprised that the album is highly political, too.
Nice Up from Dub Pistols and legendary UK EDM outfit Freestylers featuring Horseman is a straight-up Reggae-meets-Hip Hop, with its bubble rhythm on the keys, broken bassline but harder beats on the drums. Freestylers have put their mark on it too, with the break that builds to a kick-led crescendo. It bounces along like a classic, and Horseman’s winding vocals serve to enhance this. Classic, stomping UK party music.
Then, Nah Give It Up sees Horseman return, joined by Winstone Williams, but this time across something far more Reggae, with its clear one drop on both the bass and drums, swaying horns and strong singjay from Horseman. However, the elements of Dub are strong, here – including some good synths, excellent use of reverb and low-pass filtering and decay.
The brooding Moving On features Natty Campbell, and sees Frontline change course slightly – invoking that haunting, 2 Tone Ska sound of the '70s and '80s – including a half-time bubble rhythm, winding bass and hard kick. The synth horns are a nice touch and Campbell’s vocal is strong – especially with the slightest veneer of ‘other room’ engineering.
That’s No Lie sees the Dub Pistols take on Chopstick Dubplate and King Yoof, featuring the vocals of Demolition Man. It’s that classic early '90s Ragga-influenced Jungle sound – merging heavily EDM arrangement with Demolition Man’s Reggae vocal. Soundboy Killa sees Campbell return, across what feels like a Big Beat, party-led tribute – heavy drums, a strong yet distorted horn section, samples and synths and some pointed breaks - all set across a rapid BPM, nods to Reggae in the bubble rhythm and Campbell’s vocal.
Better Has Come featuring Lindy Layton is more classic Reggae, but this time with that early Dancehall sound system vibe, where the composition predominantly works around one chord progression. An organ shrills, horns in response to the main vocal line and Layton’s vocals are smooth, jazzy, and sweet. Spitfire featuring Cheshire Cat is more Jungle – but slighter later in style than That’s No Lie, with its focus on bass running its half-time, swaying rhythm, the constant snare rolls and rapid hi-hats – plus the signature breaks taking everything back to its Reggae roots.
Cat comes back, as do Freestylers, for the title track, here feeling more Steppers with the hard four-to-the-floor kick coupled with Reggae sensibilities. It’s another haunting track, with a heavily engineered choral-style background vocal line and its evocative minor key. The inclusion of a melodica is a genius touch, as it cements the brooding nature of the track – as do the synths and samples, at times sounding like cop car sirens and 80s rotary phones. Breaks are well-placed, Cat’s vocal is very strong and the whole thing is a work of art. Perfection.
Jump On It is Dub Pistols and Freestylers once more, featuring Top Cat – and it takes the sound back to 2 Tone again – but more upbeat and party-led than Moving On.
M16 featuring Ragga Twins rolls things back to Reggae-influenced Jungle with a smattering of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean interpolated in. If You Ever Get A Draw featuring Myki Tuff is back to straighter Reggae – but with a fluid and interesting piano line, as well as some pleasing call and response horns. Finally, Love featuring regular Dub Pistols frontman Seanie T, and Chezidek, closes Frontline with rich, heavily orchestrated Reggae.
The narratives across the album are strong – juxtaposed against the party tracks. Nah Give It Up talks about staying strong in the face of the system’s continuous onslaught, while Moving On does similar, but with the emphasis being on not letting the traps the state sets hold you back. That’s No Lie is almost a anti-Lover’s Rock cut, while Better Has Come is positivity encapsulated – if you keep the faith.
But it’s the title track which is perhaps the strongest, both musically and lyrically. Dub Pistols have given us a pointed and effective assessment of poverty, inequality, and the drudgery of life under the system in the 21st century – but looping it back to the social unrest in Brixton, London in 1981 against a similar economic and social backdrop. The musical nods to the era are strong as well, and it’s a stunning piece of work and sums up Dub Pistols’ approach to their craft across 25 years.
The ‘Wild West’ theme that has been threaded into the music also serves to enhance these narratives – making a pointed reference to the state-invoked lawlessness and hardship of the US in the 1800s. Nods to this can be seen, for example, in MI6 with its vulture calls sampled at the beginning and interpolation of the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and Moving On’s use of a harmonica.
Frontline is an excellent project from all involved. Expertly crafted, Dub Pistols have drawn together some of the best names in UK Reggae-influenced music to create a clever album of pure class – cleverly woven together with myriad threads and themes. It’s a strong release and the perfect celebration of their 25 years doing what they do so well.
Dub Pistols - Frontline
DIGITAL RELEASE [Cyclone Records]
Release date: 03/10/2023
01. Nice Up feat. Horseman
02. Nah Give It Up feat. Winstone Williams
03. Moving On feat. Natty Campbell
04. That's No Lie feat. Demolition Man
05. Soundboy Killa feat. Natty Campbell
06. Better Has Come feat. Lindy Layton
07. Spitfire feat. Cheshire Cat
08. Frontline feat. Cheshire Cat
09. Jump On It feat. Top Cat
10. M16 feat. Ragga Twins
11. If You Ever Get A Draw feat. Myki Tuff
12. Love feat. Chezidek & Seanie T