If I told you that British rap-rock duo Bob Vylan’s sophomore release contained lyrics compelling listeners to “Burn Britannia, Kill the Queen“—or maybe to “Give Churchill’s statue the rope / And let’s see if it floats”—or, perhaps, drew your attention to their echo of Public Enemy, “Elvis was a hero to most / But he never meant shit to me, because the fucker was wack / Plus, he hated blacks,” then you might rightfully conclude that it was an album that was channeling an awful lot of rage. If I told you that those lyrics were all taken from the same song (“Take That,” if you were wondering) then you might get some idea of just how trenchantly, unapologetically sick to death Bob Vylan really are with Britain’s cultural, economic, and political status quo—something they can only regard with a mixture of pitying disgust and urgent, unquenchable horror.
Musically, Bob Vylan Presents The Price Of Life mines little new ground. The riffs are consistently chunky and energizing, and it’s all pretty strong, save for a few fairly clichéd song structures (“Pretty Songs,” for example, kicks off with 20-odd seconds of acoustic guitar that quickly bursts into a faster and fuzzier rendition of that exact same riff à la every edgy ‘90s grunge band you’ve ever heard). But, as with most punk rock, musical mastery is not really the point here. What far exceeds the complexity of Bob Vylan’s beats is the intensity of their lyrics; even a spoken-word rendition of a Bob Vylan song could be ferociously radical enough to incite a riot, and the heavy instrumentation that surrounds them is only there to add to the furor.
But The Price Of Life is built on more than fury, but rather a highly specific, finely tuned fury. The duo know exactly what they believe in, and they are not afraid to say so as provocatively as they can, and then some. Bob Vylan unleash their iconoclastic scorn on a whole host of targets, from small-time drug barons to the economic systems that allow such people to thrive in the first place; from the creeping hand of authoritarianism to the limousine liberals who do nothing to stand in its way.
There are those who’d hand wave away Bob Vylan’s warnings of an overtly fascist regime lingering on the horizon as hysterical. But when you consider, for example, the British government’s recent policing bill, which has banned any protests that might be considered “seriously inconvenient” (so, any that might get results?)—or the Metropolitan Police’s decision to withhold from the public information about elected politicians who broke Covid laws—these concerns are frighteningly valid.
The most exhilarating—and terrifying—aspect of Bob Vylan’s message is how excited they are for it to all fall apart. The Price Of Life could hardly be described as a unifying anthem for reconciliation. Instead, it’s both a blistering attack on a system they consider to be defined by exploitation, and a tongue-in-cheek celebration of its death knell. It’s anti-establishment in the truest sense, and if punk ever meant anything at all, then it would be hard to argue it meant anything less than this.
Label: Ghost Theatre