Youth Detention (Nail My Feet Down To The Southside Of Town) by Lee Bains III and The Glory FiresRelease date: June 30, 2017
Label: Red Eye Worldwide
Youth Detention (Nail My Feet Down To The Southside Of Town) is the third album by Birmingham, Alabama’s Lee Bains II and The Glory Fires and sees the band continue their move into socially conscious, Southern Rock flavoured punk following on from 2014’s Dereconstructed lp. Where Youth Detention… differs from its fiery predecessor is in a broadening of the musical palette which now, amongst all the dirty riffs and polemic, finds room for occasional hard psych-jangle and impressionistic, feverish lyrics: a mix akin to mid-period R. E. M. infiltrating The Clash.
It’s the polemic that hits you first though so that putting this album on is like stepping out of a side street and being swept up in a mass demonstration as it surges onwards. Full of half heard outrages, instructions and shouted slogans it has a fervour and passion pretty unmatched by anything else I’ve heard this year. The obvious recent antecedent is the Drive By Truckers American Band, but whilst that record sounds bewildered and bitter, Youth Detention… has a constant seam of optimism running through it – just look at the exclamations in the song titles; ‘Break It Down!’, ‘Save My Life!’, ‘Sweet Disorder!’. It has the simple naïve energy of a teenage manifesto.
The hope rests, as ever, in the youth, although why they are in detention as yet eludes me.
“Come on children, break it down” urges the chorus of the opening number, setting it’s stall out from the start, with the other big theme being – how do you gain acceptance, inner peace and retain pride in your identity in a place already riven by racial and social divisions.
Many of the songs deal with the issues as they are played out in school playgrounds and meetings. On the furious punk of ‘Good Old Boy’ the differing ways students are dealt with depending on their background is scathingly attacked –
”Bradford couldn’t pass, you sent him to a tutor, Randy couldn’t pass, you sent him to work, Bradford couldn’t pass, you sent him to a tutor, Randy couldn’t pass, you just sent his ass to work”
On the awesome, epic swell of ‘Crooked Letter’ which begins at a creep and then surges on children’s chants, feedback and a righteous but laidback guitar riff, a boy from the Middle East is dumped into a Southern school and finds petty racial questions dominate his early dealings with the other students –
”The boys demand to know if he’s white or black, And squint into his sun-browned face, framed with black curls of hair, He sighs, and, with his finger, draws sprawling maps Of the Middle East into the hot damp heavy air”
Where Youth Detention… falls down somewhat is in the production as the band pretty much recorded live in the studio, meaning that whilst the energy captured is almost overpowering, the subtleties of the lyrics are frequently lost amongst the howling guitars. But boy, this a guitar lovers album. I’m unashamed to say I have played air guitar wildly to these songs! The only real respite amongst the 17 songs is on the acoustic ‘The Picture of a Man’ where Bains sings tenderly of a ”warm, forgiving light” awaiting all the good people of the world, as their oppressor’s ”fade to black”.
To fully appreciate the poetry and the savagery of Bains songs you will need access to a lyric sheet, but all you need to do to enjoy it and understand the intent is to turn it up loud. This is one fine rock n’ roll album – stick on ‘Had To Laugh’ or ‘Save My Life’ and you will be pumping your limbs and hollering like the ghost of Joe Strummer, who would no doubt approve of this album thoroughly with it’s infectious mix of grit, humanity and guitars.