Remember the super catchy popular hit song “Tubthumping” from 1997? Sure you do, you still hear it played at major sporting events: “I get knocked down but I get up again. You're never gonna keep me down ....” Perhaps the most popular protest song of the decade. Sorry, sports fans: Chumbawamba are a self-described “Anarchist Collective” composed of five permanent members with a firm Marxist world view -- and they're not singing about American football.
After their hit song, they turned down $1.5 million for a Nike commercial in 1998 and $700,000 from General Electric. However, they did take GM for a $100,000 ride by giving them the rights to use “Pass it Along,” only to pass the money on to IndyMedia and CorpWatch to monitor GM’s social and environmental impacts. If that is not radical enough for you, a band member dumped a bucket of ice water over the head of British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the 1998 Brit Awards and (arguably most radically) a bucket of red paint over the head of former Clash guitarist Joe Strummer.
A proper history of the group should begin with the story of Karl Marx turning out manifestos by candlelight so the story of Chumbawamba could take volumes of world history and the history of popular music. Let’s just say that in 1984, in a humble squat in Leeds, England, the collective began by performing punk performance art (imagine early Clash meets Talking Heads). Chumbawamba quickly developed their own unique style by singing post-industrial, industrial-ballads, often fusing catchy commercial jingle formulas and folk music while cleverly rewording traditional English folk songs to suit current events. After moving away from their early punk origins to experimentations with dance and techno, Chumbawamba always held on to their busky a capella foundation.
Their most recent 25-song release, The Boy Bands Have Won, is their latest widely released acoustic recording. Do not let their gentle five-part harmonies fool you, as their songs paint a picture of a less-than-gentle and harmonious society. The recording kicks off with “Add Me,” a poppy yet dark perspective on the perils of social networking websites. Set to a traditional English folk song, “I Wish They’d Sack Me” is a worker’s lament and celebration of sleep in favor of work that is sure to make it into future worker’s songbooks. A personal and perhaps most sinister favorite is “Compliments of Your Waitress,” which is the story of a restaurant worker’s vengeance, reminding us all to always respect our wait staff. Perhaps most heroically, “El Fusilado” tells the true story of a 1915 Mexican Revolutionary who survived 10 shots from a firing squad and lived to tell his tale in the United States while traveling in a "Ripley’s Believe it or Not" museum.
Not since early Bob Dylan has there been a record that is loaded with dizzying pop icons as The Boy Bands Have Won, with songs referring to Bertolt Brecht, Lord Bono, Charles Darwin, Paris Hilton, Jane Mansfield and Margaret Thatcher, just to name a few.
The Boy Bands Have Won continues the over 20-year tradition of Chumbawamba’s thoughtful and thought provoking one of a kind music style. You're never gonna keep them down.