Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange: dystopian art has always been fictitious but nowadays, society isn’t too far from these dreamt-up worlds. 'Columbia' proves just that as The Blinders offer a social commentary on modern society using dystopian references, wrapping it with their own demonic twists, as they follow Tom Haywood’s on-stage persona, Johnny Dream, on his spiritual awakening.
Named after the utopia Charles Manson promised his family, 'Columbia' was always going to be a dark and twisted record depicting the negatives of society, yet it’s not all doom and gloom. A beacon for a better life, 'Columbia' is The Blinders’ manifesto for a new world order. Accompanied by regularly punishing and visceral instrumentation, the album is a unique collection of protest music that instead of remonstrating about past events, offers ideas for change in a refreshing exploration of today’s world.
The first four tracks immediately immerse you in the menacing world of 'Columbia'. Whirring riffs dominating, the war drums integral, drone sounds making you check over your shoulder as you listen. It‘s infectious, with bombastic drum beats, western twangs and jangly yet searing guitar riffs getting you ready to dance, mosh or start a revolution.
The structuring of each song is meticulous, songs acting like a violent rollercoaster determined to turn your stomach upside down. They change speed smoothly, slowing to a near stop before altering the main riff and revving the engine once more, nought to 60 at the speed of light, enraging anger in the listener both with their observations on society and energetic, angst-ridden rock’n’roll.
Live-show-closer, ‘Brutus’, demonstrates the clever structuring perfectly, as Haywood comments on division in the world, referencing Orwell’s Big Brother and Julius Caesar’s assassination. Meanwhile the spoken-word-intermission ‘Free The Slave’, a driving, formidable poem about freeing people from those “crooked vultures that just don’t care’, a potential reference to the current government, provides an early but welcome break from the at times repetitive punk rock.
And it’s when The Blinders turn off the amplifiers and electric guitars, they somehow excel even further. Eerie and mysterious, ‘The Ballad Of Winston Smith’ blows you away. Here, The Blinders merge literary references with modern day society perfectly, using the protagonist from Nineteen Eighty-Four to demonstrate how similar our society is to the totalitarian one created by Orwell, suffering under surveillance and intense propaganda. It’s a powerful song containing blunt and poignant lyricism: "hoodwinked society, hang the Manson family, foxhunt the refugee".
Wrapped in misery for the most part, Columbia, despite being a mirror for modern society, is not all grey. ‘Rat In A Cage’ offers a shimmer of light, Tom Haywood euphorically singing "come together we need each other”, harmonica sounds filtering through.
Elsewhere, ‘Orbit (Salmon Of Alaska)’, a gloriously sad piano-ballad, Nick Cave influences apparent, offers a suitable finale summing up the disillusion and hopelessness of many people. The song, despite being inspired by the tragic suicide of a schoolfriend, manages to find optimism amongst all the sadness as Haywood sings about a better world, a utopia where we are free from the totalitarian control depicted throughout 'Columbia'.
Words: Johnny Rogerson
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