It’s an unusual path that Skindred have carved for themselves over the past 10 years. While their live show has got better with every touring cycle, their studio output has largely headed in the opposite direction. With the notable exception of Union Black, every album since 2007 masterpiece Roots Rock Riot has suffered from too much bark and not enough bite, and it gives MonkHammer literally no pleasure at all to report that the saga continues with Big Tings.
For the record, Big Tings is not a bad album, it’s just not a very good Skindred album, lacking the vibrancy and originality that made the band such an enticing prospect in the first place and replacing the ragga-metal-punk-hip-hop blueprint with a ragga-pop-arena-rock one, which, like the music itself, just isn’t as catchy or exciting. From the opening Dizzee Rascal drum beat through to the lighters-in-the-air symphonic rendition of Saying It Now from predecessor Volume, the album feels like a very open-armed push for the mainstream, which is understandable but simply doesn’t sit comfortably for a band as unique as Skindred. Nowhere is this chart appeal more apparent than the Chase & Status-aping Alive, or Last Chance, which has the temerity to throw a “featuring Pitbull” style rap into the mix (an odd choice when you have a Benji Webbe at your disposal), while the inclusion of yet another mawkish ballad (Tell Me) adds little to the legacy of one of the best live bands that ever did. It’s not all doom and gloom though, with rollicking lead single Machine and the bouncy-bollocks-bombast of All This Time proving Skindred can still start a Skin-ruckus when they need to, but in all honesty, as fun as they both are, neither would trouble a back catalogue Top 20.
The resulting version of Skindred is much like a wardrobe without a back panel. It still looks the same, acts the same, and does exactly what you want it to, but as soon as you open it up, it’s immediately obvious that something important is missing. Skindred will live and die on the stage, but in creating another album of toilet breaks, they risk diluting their legacy irreparably. Disappointingly less Big Tings, more small returns.