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Enter Shikari
Common Dreads Iain Moffat , June 17th, 2009 09:36

Has there been a hit single in recent memory more custom-built to polarise and perplex than 'Juggernauts'? First up, it's still got those breakneck keyboards that so annoyed older observers when the foursome first emerged. Secondly, it actually dares to have a clearly defined and articulated message: namely that, contrary to the bling-is-good orthodoxy of the charts, capitalism always comes at a price. An uncontroversial enough sentiment, you'd have thought; yet it's still been seized upon by critics who tend to be at best unacknowledging of, and at worst apologists for, a mainstream that promotes the likes of the poisonous feminism-never-happened froth of 'Single Ladies', the sinister Stepfordisms of the Disney doyennes and the unalloyed hate crime of 'I Kissed A Girl'. And, thirdly, Rou Reynolds appears to have become possessed by none other than Mike Skinner, which has led to whiskey-tango-foxtrot comments a-go-go on YouTube. Frankly, even if it was all they'd ever done, you'd have to applaud their overreach at the very least.

But, of course, there continues to be yet more to Enter Shikari in the way of substance. Somehow — and goodness only knows how, since they were only toddlers at the time, and received wisdom has tended to go for the neater narrative that, musically, grunge gave way to Britpop with nothing in between — they've long cast themselves as spiritual children of the collision pop era. From a political standpoint, that's even more in evidence this time around: it's harder than it ought to be to think of another band of their generation who'd even bother to ask "are we really ethnocentrically inclined?", never mind refer to themselves as "the grass roots resistance". Mind you, given that there's significantly more ideological blurring these days than there was when conscience-searching commentary was more de rigeur for bands, it could be argued they're taking a terrible risk with their approach. After all, Common Dreads, while it would've clearly worked as a title in the hairier Megadog age, conjures up the unpleasant spectre of unity through fear. Not, thankfully, that anyone's liable to be mistaking this lot for Daily Mail readers or BNP voters any time soon: 'Wall', after all, and for all its bizarre lyrical imagery, is very much in favour of thinking and speaking for yourself; while 'Step Up' and 'Fanfare For The Conscious Man' denigrate the class divide and haves'n'have-nots inequity. Given that public confidence in politicians of every stripe is all-but-nonexistent, the timing of 'Havoc A' could scarcely have been better.

All of which would be absolutely meaningless if this wasn't an album that could ensnare the apathetic, which is why it's so vital that Shikari have also taken on the sonic adventurism of their forebears. They're actually incredibly accomplished at the whole no-nonsense metal thing — see, for instance, the first 45 seconds of 'Antwerpen' — but they're far too restless to resist reshuffling the template wherever possible. Consequently, they've shored up the communal theme of the album with voices taken from numerous sources and regions (to notably potent effect on the title track in particular), stepped ever harder on the rave pedals (especially on the tremendous 'Zzzonked'), and even got round to bothering with occasional forays into muted brass. Oh, and 'Gap In The Fence' is essentially Idlewild discovering the joys of trance, while the comparatively-frivolous-yet-spiky- with-a-surgical-accuracy 'The Jester' features the most exciting flute action since 'Bad Intentions' and can't decide which sort of hardcore it really ought to be so just goes for the whole lot at once. 'Peerless' is an overused term when referring to bands, especially ones in such a still-developing stage, but for Enter Shikari it seems entirely appropriate: Common Dreads is a rare treat indeed.