The relentless brilliance of this formidable partnership shows no sign of decline with this, their twentieth album, delivering a forceful blow, with a rhetoric and dialogue that connects unreservedly with the mood of the times. Arrogance Ignorance & Greed is an album replete with anger juxtaposed against intimate soul-searching, sometimes exhibiting sinister overtones weighed down by the weary mistrust of an increasingly dishonorable world.
The title track deals short shrift to those who bought about the credit crunch, contrasting the fat cats who escaped with their pensions and worldly possessions, with the sombre proletariat, left behind to deal with the all too real consequences: "you're on your yacht, we're on our knees." Steve Knightley seemingly looks on in dismay and disbelief on "A Thief," where the looting of the stricken Napoli on Devon's coast, showed how easily the unsavoury side of everyday folk can surface, causing Knightley to question the values of the public: "scratch Joe Public, what's underneath / a looter, and a pirate and a thief." Political musings are not confined solely to the here and now, with an impassioned reading of Bob Dylan's "Señor," casting a scathing eye over US attitudes towards Latin America in the 1970s.
"IED: Science Or Nature" is a devastatingly effective marriage of personal and global tragedy, looking at split-second, random events that can shatter the worlds of those caught in their wake, be it the biological clock ticking away in our bodies, the lapsed concentration of a fatigued motorist, or the indiscriminate target of a rooftop sniper. Knightley sings with an eerie precision and resolve on a song that puts the fear of God in you, the more you dwell on its lyrics.
A couple of the nation's traditional treasures receive due attention, with strikingly contrasting results. The opening track, "Lowlands," is presented as a hauntingly understated piece with beautiful vocal harmonies to the fore, whilst "The Keys Of Canterbury" emerges as a rousing, dark tale of great splendour, with a stylishly contemporary arrangement. The latter is performed as a duet between Knightley's robust vocals and the silky, sultry vocals of Jackie Oates.
Whilst the attitude and anger tend to take centre stage, there are more reflective moments on Arrogance Ignorance & Greed that carry equal power. Phil Beer's evocative reading of Peter Gabriel's "Secret World" showcases his remarkably sensitive vocals, while Knightley's "Drift" casts a perceptive eye at the isolation and helplessness that are endured when spending prolonged periods of time in hospital. "The Man I Was" delves deep in to the emotions of the male psyche, looking back with regret, and trying hard to convince a loved one that those reckless days are indeed consigned to history: "it's over now it breaks my heart because / the man you see is not the man I was."
Stu Hannah has done a splendid job with the production, giving equal prominence to the contemporary rhythms of Knightley's rock-attitude delivery, and the stylish acoustic ornamentations of Phil Beer. That an album manages to deliver such volume whilst retaining such a vibrant, acoustic soul is a real accomplishment, and allows for a pleasurable listen, with bountiful detail to admire.
With Arrogance Ignorance & Greed, Show of Hands undoubtedly reaffirm their position as one of Britain's most adept musical forces, with Steve Knightley's song writing warranting particular praise for its social conscience and emotive empathy. This is music of which a nation should justly be proud. Have these guys been knighted yet?
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