“Celebrate The Bullet” by The Selecter - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1981Album Chart of the Decade: 1980s

TJR says

Too Much Pressure? We didn't know the half of it I think. A very disruptive 1980 saw The Selecter depart 2-Tone, losing two band members along the way. Lead singer Pauline Black later commented: “At the beginning, all 14 of us in the Specials and the Selecter collectively made decisions on how 2 Tone was run and who we signed – we were terribly egalitarian and high principled. The problems started when all the bands started going their separate ways with their own British and US tours. There was infighting. We were all in different places and our shared vision fragmented quite quickly. Initially we'd all shared the same stage and based the 2 Tone tour on a Motown revue.” De facto label head Jerry Dammers likened 2-Tone to Frankenstein's monster and was getting it tight from all angles but, to be fair, introducing funk-punk groups to the roster didn't go down well in some quarters. Mid 1980, the Selecter put out a loaded statement saying that “Due to the success of 2 Tone, many of our ideas have been hampered” and re-negotiated a direct deal with Chrysalis Records. As recording sessions got underway for their second album, two of the born-Jamaican members abruptly departed, firstly keyboardist Desmond Brown then bassist Charley Anderson who stated: “I refused to play on 'Celebrate the Bullet'. I didn’t think it was the right direction for the band and the rest is history. We all know John Lennon was shot just before the album was released. Maybe I had a premonition.” He and Brown formed The People, a short-lived group playing a deeper brand of roots-rock reggae. Rarely was the phrase “difficult second album” so apt.

As with the debut, the album was recorded at Horizon Studios in their Coventry hometown, with Roger Lomas (Mo-Dettes, Bad Manners) handling production duties. The new seven were: Pauline Black (vocals), Neol Davies (guitar, vocals), Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson (vocals), David 'Compton' Amanor (guitar, vocals), Adam Williams (bass), James Mackie (keyboards, organ, sax, vocals) and Charley 'H' Bembridge (drums). Sometime session man Barry Jones played occasional trombone, whilst on-loan Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy played bass on the title-track and “Washed Up And Left For Dead”. Dealing determinedly in serious matters this time around, cover versions were out and songs of political, personal and social strife were the lyrical play. Gaps takes the lead vocal for the bouncy opener “(Who Likes) Facing Situations” before Pauline, drowning her sorrows with too many 'blues', takes over on her own “Deep Water”: “The name [of an American town] just struck a chord with how I was feeling at the time. That tour was fraught with internal problems among us and I was deeply unhappy for most of the time, so I began to pen a song to reflect those inner feelings. I finished writing the song just around the time that keyboardist Desmond Brown finally walked out of the band for some unknown reason, just prior to the sacking of Charley Anderson. Believe me, it really did feel as though we were in ‘deepwater’ back then.” Nice atmospherics from the ensemble. Relationship grief is at the heart of both “(Who Likes) Facing Situations” (sung by Pauline) and “Tell Me What's Wrong” (written and sung by Gaps). Delivered on a new wave bed of reggata-de-blanc, “Bombscare” speaks of the terrorist threat that hangs over Britain today: “The unattended bag in the corridor, looking innocent, but we're all unsure, this is a bombscare”. Alienation is the theme of side one closer, “Washed Up And Left For Dead”, a literal and metaphorical tale which continues the album's rather bleak tone.

Opening side two, “Celebrate The Bullet” raises the quality back to the levels that I expect from my Selecter and suddenly the bleakness is enjoyable, all the way from the pumped bass to the hazy trombone and the film-esque bursts of surf guitar. I remember reading somewhere that they'd always intended for their opening 2-Tone instrumental statement, “The Selecter”, to be fully-fleshed out in song form, and the vibe and structure here, if not quite the same tune, feels close to making that statement come true. Lyrically, I'd like to think that it's taking a pop at America's gun laws, and it certainly does so at gun users (“Celebrate the bullet, It all seems to get much bigger, Do you really have to prove it, 'Cause you know it won't bring them back to you”). In a right-thinking world, the recent murder of John Lennon (Dec '80) would have seen the song become a statement of great import, but all subtleties were lost in translation and radio stations went in the opposite direction, placing airplay bans on the work. Groan. In March, 1981, one month after the single and album were released, an assassination attempt was made on President Ronald Reagan's life. Double groan. At this time, if it wasn't for bad luck, The Selecter would have had no luck at all. “Selling Out Your Future” is a plea to wake up and smell the coffee, don't let the war machines win: “Switching on the colour vision, smiling faces lie to you, faded voices crying fall into line, then fall-out come tomorrow”. “Cool Blue Lady” has got some mean and complex ska chops to commend it, whilst “Their Dream Goes On”, sung by Gaps, takes a complete left-field turn into Joy Division territory. With added sax. “I looked at you, Turn electric blue, It doesn't matter, At all to them”. Blue is most certainly the way they are feeling on this album. The lively album closer “Bristol And Miami” connects the two cities via race riots. “Where's it gonna be tomorrow?” is the pertinent question. Quite brilliantly, the piece ends with a minute or so of Soweto-style choir chant: “Black man singing in the heat of the night, Broken dreams just fly away”. I'd have taken a whole song's worth if I had my way. There's no doubting this is a good album, but I miss the hooks and the deeper sense of Jamaican rhythm as served on the debut. Could have done with more trombone too. I only moan because I care.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [03:32] 7.1.png The Selecter - (Who Likes) Facing Situations (Neol Davies) Ska / Rocksteady
A2 [04:09] 6.8.png The Selecter - Deep Water (Pauline Black) Ska / Rocksteady
A3 [03:38] 5.7.png The Selecter - Red Reflections (Pauline Black) Ska / Rocksteady
A4 [03:30] 6.9.png The Selecter - Tell Me What’s Wrong (Arthur Hendrickson) Ska / Rocksteady
A5 [03:05] 5.8.png The Selecter - Bombscare (David Amanor) Dubbeat
A6 [03:57] 6.2.png The Selecter - Washed Up And Left For Dead (Neol Davies) Ska / Rocksteady
B1 [04:34] 8.6.png The Selecter - Celebrate The Bullet (Neol Davies) Reggae
B2 [03:59] 5.9.png The Selecter - Selling Out Your Future (David Amanor) Reggae
B3 [03:30] 6.3.png The Selecter - Cool Blue Lady (Neol Davies) Ska / Rocksteady
B4 [03:42] 6.1.png The Selecter - Their Dream Goes On (Neol Davies) Post-Punk
B5 [04:58] 6.1.png The Selecter - Bristol And Miami (Pauline Black) Ska / Rocksteady

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