Desperate times call for desperate measures, they say, and so often are we assured of its death throes that rock 'n' roll is surely the most desperate of musical solutions in 2019.
Grey Hairs are most assuredly a rock band. You can hear echoes of their influences throughout their scintillating blast: the molten roar of TAD and the slinky malevolence of The Jesus Lizard will hit you first, but also the rawness of Dead Moon; the punk rush of the Wipers; a vision of a parallel universe where surf music is invented by Rowland S. Howard, but only after his relocation to the polluted grey murk of 1980s London...
But that’s enough trainspotting. The Nottingham band's hybrid of groove and brute force is one thing, but ‘Health & Social Care's dissection of the sociological climate is quite another. There have been plenty of great records in recent times discussing the unremitting awfulness of the zeitgeist that currently haunts us; many focussed on the rise of intolerance in an age that endlessly bombards us with unprecedented amounts of information. Separating themselves from that pack, Grey Hairs’ trick is not to focus on generalities, but on the struggles of managing these struggles on a day-to-day basis.
In their own words – well, those of the press release, at any rate – this is an album that ponders the question: “How can someone be a public sector punk in 2019?” To put that another way, how do you reconcile your personal ethics with the grim reality of having to get by – and indeed interact with the awfulness of the world around you? If you work for The Man, do you become The Man, and where does that leave the rage you've stacked up against him?
And boy, do they explore those themes. ‘Ghost In Your Own Life’ finds vocalist James Finlay and bassist Amy Case howling that they can find ‘no shelter from the storm’, nor any closure to boot. Exactly what they’re trying to escape is hard to make out, but from the song’s title alone you suspect the answer is ‘everything’, and the song’s fuzzed-out pulse makes their impotent fury feel as tangible as it's wholly relatable.
The quandary at the heart of ‘Tory Nurse’ is more self-explanatory, while the album's advance track ‘Piss Transgressor’ disseminates the experience of analysing your own failings via those of other people (specifically, and charmingly, while urinating alongside them in that grimmest of social spaces, the pub toilet).
But even while it may take a long time to unravel the specific themes of ‘Health & Social Care’ in the midst of so much ear-lacerating volume, you will not fail to get the point. Best of all is that the album finds the band pushing itself harder than ever before – while previous efforts ‘Colossal Downer’ and ‘Serious Business’ have been nothing short of magnificent, this time things are even more intense.
The riffs bruise more heavily (opener 'Hydropona' is a trip), the rhythm section drives deeper into the oblique while remaining crushingly powerful, and guitarist Chris Summerlin oscillates smartly between muscle and a delightfully weird twang, like Duane Eddy dropping steroids into an active volcano.
This is no survival manual, more a reminder to those exhausted by the horrors of the era that they’re not alone. And while they’d no doubt wince at hearing it expressed in such simplistic terms, it really fucking rocks too.
An album for our time, sure, but one for the ages nonetheless.
Words: Will Fitzpatrick
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