Review of 12 Crass Songs Album by Jeffrey Lewis

Jeffrey Lewis
12 Crass Songs
Album Review

Jeffrey Lewis 12 Crass Songs Album

As one of the leaders of New York's anti-folk scene, Jeffrey Lewis hasn't exactly followed with tradition from the first moment he learned how to pluck a guitar tunefully and co-ordinate the sound with words of his own. Having played with the likes of Adam Green and Kimya Dawson, not to mention toured with such icons as The Fall, Frank Black and Thurston Moore, it's fair to say that Lewis is pretty well respected across the musical universe, and unsurprisingly his own knowledge and influences are vast and anything but pigeonholed.

However, what no one could have expected was for his latest record to comprise entirely of reworked compositions originally recorded by London anarchist punks Crass, all done in his own inimitable style of course, and occasionally lyrically tampered to fit in with his own skewered vision of the 21st century.

Crass, you see, were one of the most uncompromising bands of their generation. Punk rock in style and attitude they may have been, but whereas most of their peers went onto international fame and fortune, they stuck firmly to their beliefs right to the bitter end and their demise, ironically in 1984, operating almost exclusively from a commune-type squat in Epping, London.

The harsh, almost brutal delivery of their work still stands out today, so it is quite commendable that someone as wittily observant as Lewis has made the likes of 'The Gasman Cometh' sound less provocative and indignant than its title and original lyrical content suggest. Likewise 'I Ain't Thick, It's Just A Trick', the closing mantra on 1979's 'Stations Of The Crass' opus finds the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker rubbing shoulders with Thatcher and Reagan on Lewis' Crass-inspired hate list.

'Do They Owe Us A Living?' and 'Banned From The Roxy', both taken from Crass' debut 12-inch - and still regarded by many as their finest hour - 'Feeding Of The 5,000', actually sound as fresh and relevant today as they did almost thirty years ago. While the latter revels in lists and slogans casually reeled off by Lewis in his own nonchalant way, the former sees him duet with Helen Schreiner to create a frantically discordant protest song out of what was initially a 90 second thrash.

Likewise, 'Systematic Death' and 'Big A, Little A', where Schreiner's "The cat's in the cupboard but it won't get me" adds a touch of humour in favour of the original's "The system might have got you but." sound like insistent masterpieces, rather than hastily arranged cover versions. As a tribute to the creators of these pieces of music, '12 Crass Songs' is fittingly apt, and if anything also marks Jeffrey Lewis out as much more than just a kooky American folk singer. Instead it shows that he can turn his hand to almost anything, and if anyone wanted to know how to re-adapt someone else's work in order to make it entirely your own, they should listen to this record.

What's more, in the true spirit of Crass, all proceeds from the sales of this album will be donated to numerous humanitarian charities, which is about as appropriate as it gets.

Dom Gourlay

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