In the mid-90s, record labels held significant weight. We would go to record shops and buy a tape simply because it had the red Atlantic livery on it. If your favourite band was on a label, chances are you would listen to other bands on that same stable. For example, The Wildhearts were on East West, and despite Ginger getting fans chanting “fuck East West” during one of their shows, it was because of that association that I discovered an Essex band called Understand.
Now, I know this is the part where I am supposed to tell you what Understand sounds like – perhaps like Fugazi or Black Flag – but the truth is, as a 19-year-old rock n roll kid when their debut album “Burning Bushes And Burning Bridges” was released, I had never heard anything like it before. I knew it was on East West, it received rave reviews in Kerrang!, and it was produced by Chris Sheldon, who had worked with many of the bands I loved. That was enough for me, and to this day, even with all the hardcore talk, Understand still sound like Therapy? to me.
Which brings us to “Real Food At Last,” Understand’s first album in almost three decades. However, it’s not really a new album at all. It’s a collection of unreleased tracks that were made while they were searching for labels (there’s that word again!) after leaving East West. Partly, it’s an album born out of tragedy, as founding guitarist John Hannon passed away a couple of years ago, and this album is partly released in tribute to him.
“Real Food At Last” with its “I could die for this” hook, is classic Understand, but it goes deeper. “Screwtop Milkshake” is what the ’90s sounded like – somewhere between Helmet and Ash. “Want The News?…Well Here’s The Blues” is a track with slabs of guitar and melody, yet with swirling chaos thanks to John Hannon’s guitar. It’s the perfect monument to his legacy.
“Long Driving Contest” has sloganeering and sounds similar to the Almighty’s “Crank.” – and its interesting that this has improved my …..understanding of you will….of that record (which was another that Sheldon produced a couple of years after “….Bridges”)
“(Intro) Small Boy” is a track that proves simply, that Understand too good for the mainstream. Riffs? They had them, that’s all I can say.
I mentioned Andy Cairns lot before, Listen to “Sentence” and you’ll hear that there’s a real Therapy? thing going on. There are twists and turns in this track, with even a bit of RATM in the guitar. “Sadie” makes me wonder if Frank Carter is carrying the torch for this type of music today, and “I Can Get You In” has a melody locked away behind barbed wire, a bit like a lot of bands did back then.
“Skirt” is perhaps a British take on Prong -there’s a trademark Tommy Victor slice of guitar in the intro for sure, and “Lightweight (Outro)” is not just the longest song here, but also the most vicious and confusing. It’s a maelstrom, a spiral and what you find down there is tough.
This – as perhaps is to be expected – is a very 90s sounding album. Rich Costey (producer to everyone, but the man who twiddled knobs on Frank Turner’s “FTHC” record, tweaked them a little but they aren’t “modern” as such. They are of the time, but resonate in this millennium just as much
Instead, what they are is a testament to a band who were too good to last but should never be forgotten. Listen to “Real Food At Last” and you’ll Understand, too.