You might know the Normil Hawaiians from the 1980 post-punk-funk single ‘The Beat Goes On’ but you won’t know their third album, Return Of The Ranters, recorded in winter 1985, as it was never released at that time. Now issued for the first time, this political punk record is the first stage of Upset The Rhythm’s schedule for releasing all three albums, complete with singles and rarities.
Return Of The Ranters is powered by the mid-80s anger of the disenfranchised, unemployed and written off that has strange echoes of today. Key tracks include ‘The Battle of Stonehenge’, intoned like an ancient folk ballad, which describes the band’s personal experience when their Peace Convoy was broken up by the police. It’s defiant, polemical and an anti-authoritarian rallying call. As is ‘Slums Still Stand’, a critique of Thatcher’s Broken Britain, taking in the miner’s strike, unemployment, youth anger (“the youth, forced into violence to seek out the truth”) and London politicians’ disinterest in Northern cities: “listen, Maggie, you stupid bitch!” ‘Sianne Don’t Work In A Factory’ has the same political messages but is more experimental, with its unsettling atmosphere, created by looped violin and mechanical drum rhythms, giving way to a tender love song. Out of swirling incoherence, ‘Search For Um Gris’ hits a motorik rhythm and becomes hooky and hypnotic, presaging Stereolab in a strange way, while ‘Mouldwarp’s Journey’ is 10 minutes of improvisation, full of wails and drones, whispered vocals, field recordings and spacey effects like post-holocaust electronic interference.
Politically aware, musically adventurous, anarchic and consensus-baiting, it’s surprising that Return Of The Ranters was shelved when the Normil Hawaiians were demonstrating a clear strain of 80s activism. But after 30 years it’s found an outlet and has an unusual resonance with the 2015 version of politics. There are no hit singles but plenty of food for thought in this missing-in-action-but-well-worth-catching experimental post-punk release.