‘Better Ways To Love & Offend’ is Zen Baseballbat`s third studio album release.
The album opens with `Trouble` and it`s a great track to lead us in with its cracking almost dreamy ska tinged tones that will have you wanting to get up and have a bop around. It`s wonderfully infectious and like a lot of great reggae numbers has a slightly imbued dub segment halfway through. The vocals are shared through a vocoder towards the end and the female vocal throughout the songs journey, to me, worked so well. I love cowbells, maybe it`s the Saturday Night Live `Blue Oyster Cult` sketch that won me over but `Retaliation` opens with them before morphing into a captivating almost B52`s `Love Shack` meets Thomas Dolby `She Blinded Me With Silence` vibe or maybe that`s just me. The repeated line of “give a little bit of retaliation, give a little bit” had me on board and singing along.
`Over The Wall` is a reflection on inequality and the haves and have nots in our skewed society. It has a kind of trippy, out there texture which allows the message to be shared in a more subtle dance like way rather than in a preachy manner. We return to reggae with `A Place Like This` which seems to be about pretty dreary places and namechecks Widnes where i`m led to believe the band hail from. Indeed, according to social media Widnes is the most dangerous major town in Cheshire and home to numerous chemical factories and manufacturing plants with some houses squished between them. The lyric of “why do we always end up in a place like this” brought a smile to me face but that possibly wasn`t the point.
`You Won`t Get Paid` is another irresistible slice of ska that possibly relates to undertaking menial low paid jobs and having had a few myself, I can sympathise. There was a sort of world music percussive opening to `I`m Where I Wanna Be When The Bombs Are Falling` before it became a reggae tinged offering. The bass brought to mind when I used to listen to a lot of songs using a fretless bass and the vocals shared were quite breathy at times which gives it a lovely mesmeric feel. It`s the kind of track that I could see Alabama 3 covering.
`Rumble` is a predominantly instrumental reggae soundscape with “I zigged when I should`ve zagged” vocally conveyed throughout. I loved the flute tinges floated in at about the half way stage. We have an enjoyable reggae backdrop with some cracking brass tinges on `Quivering On A Rope` which seems to be a disturbing tale of one man`s quest for a knee trembler on a night out.
`Name People Dog People` is a bit of an odd one. It`s a bit reggae and a bit funky with lyrics that seem to be a vague dig towards the female chavette but that may just be my interpretation. There`s an alluring and engaging reggae touch to `Reasons` which seems to have it all with a steady bassline and drumbeat, organ keys. brass and snatches of a melodica. I have to admit that I couldn`t understand what the lyrics were referring to but the joyous cacophony of music meant that I didn`t really care.
`Don`t Oppress Me Love` is a pretty fast paced outing, a kind of pop rock number about a relationship that seems to have soured over time. The album closes out with `Elsa Dorfman` which appears seems to be a homage to the American portrait photographer who was known for her use of a large-format instant Polaroid camera. It`s an ethereal almost spiritual submission with some percussive bell chimes and what I take to be the artists voice dispersed throughout.
‘Better Ways To Love & Offend’ was a really enjoyable listen and a delightful introduction for me to this band who now comprises Gary Gleavey, Carl Gleavey, Jordan Donaldson, Mike Wilkinson, Jonathan ‘Jogga’ Parker and Anoushka Wittram-Gleavey. Additionally, several other vocalists and musicians contributed to the album, including Jane Anderson, Ayshea Elfer, Jessica Wilkinson, Isabelle Wilkinson, and Tony Nipper.
The band may not like me for saying this but to me they seem to be the natural successor to the sadly missed Chumbawamba as they seem to espouse a similar variety of political and social causes in their music. I can see this group going down a storm at a festival and are definitely on my list of must see bands.