If you're expecting to hear the frenzied, skittish, punk sounds of The Slits' 1979 album Cut, prepare to be disappointed, perplexed, upset, or some combination thereof. Original Slits members Ari Up and Tessa Pollitt reunited and brought on board the talents of Hollie Cook, Anna Schlute, and Adele Wilson in recording Trapped Animal. The first full-length album in a quarter century, this album departs so far from The Slits' signature sound that it's surprising they've kept the name. This is not The Slits as you know them.
In this departure, The Slits have replaced an unpredictable punk aesthetic with faded rhythms that emerge from Jamaican and world music influences. Heavy bass lines, horns, and dub-y echoes characterize most songs. Unfortunately, The Slits fail to differentiate themselves from any other mediocre reggae band. I wondered if the inclusion of "Babylon" was meant to be facetious. There must be hundreds of similarly titled songs, and The Slits' version certainly offers nothing new. Particularly disappointing was the cliched use of a vocoder in "Lazy Slam," which recalls the sound of a mainstream pop song rather than anything remotely punk or reggae.
But not all is lost. The Slits come through with "Reject" and "Trapped Animal," in which The Slits take what they used to do best and build upon it. "Reject" is a stripped down punk song interrupted with fragmented staccatos, falsetto vocals, and gypsy breakdowns. Adorned with the album's name, "Trapped Animal" is fast and unpredictable, chaotic and liberating, and ironically, the most divergent song of the bunch. Quivering vocals and bouncing melodies clash with relentless, uninhibited screams to produce an exhilarating and well-crafted jam. Both songs infect with raw Slits energy, and if Trapped Animal has a saving grace, these songs are it.
While perhaps not groundbreaking, but to their credit, The Slits preserve their unique lyrical style of the provocative questioning of accepted social norms. Songs like "Ask Ma" and "Pay Rent" fuse reggae flow with catchy, though sometimes corny, synthesizer grooves, and in "Pay Rent," the result is a dance anthem. The song urges you on your feet and sends a somewhat unconventional yet uplifting message: "We wanna pay rent with our passion." "Ask Ma" questions gender roles and attacks conventional male treatment of women: "Men who need us to be their mother, or hate us cuz of their mother!" But the song takes a step further in offering a remedy for the problem: "So it's up to us to break the cycle, rearrange, and look at how we can bring up our boys to be more loving."
While I applaud The Slits for exploring a new genre and sound, _Trapped Animal _lacks cohesion and personality.