Benefits describe themselves as an issues-based music collective from Teesside in the North East of England who write about ‘the urgencies that concern us’. Before we let the needle drop on the first song they warn us, ‘these songs are loud’.
I’d describe this as a multi-genre approach rooted in hardcore punk, but it absolutely provides a platform for visceral (though incisive) social commentary. ‘Marlboro Hundreds’ provides the initial punch on the record, with calls to think for ourselves, reject hate, and reject oppression. It alternates from lyric-focussed eclectic verses and instrumental barrages that serve as a chorus. A certain level of apparent randomness makes the song feel vital and chaotic.
Learn about things you don’t understand
Don’t default to ignorance
Don’t fall into apathy
Don’t be fooled again and again
Don’t get fooled again
They repeat the lie
They repeat the lie
Until it’s true
‘Empire’ is a modern beat poem with teeth. The music is like a beach of razor-sharp pebbles that reflect the anger in the lyrics. This is a powerful song. It expresses a hopelessness that is broadly shared, but suppressed by rhetoric.
If the unleashed aggression of the opening brace is too much, there’s a more traditional format up next with ‘Warhorse’. This sub-three-minute song has old-school punk drums and a rasping synth bass. There’s a synth motif added in the second half, but this is otherwise stripped down and spartan compared to the aggrieved noise of the openers. This doesn’t stop the song from aiming for the very jugular at the neck of Westminster.
Stop telling me to tighten my belt
Stop telling me to wash my mouth out
Stop telling me you’re telling the truth
Stop telling me we’re in it together
Stop telling me he did his best
Stop telling me we’re levelling up
Stop telling me to get over it
Stop telling me, stop telling me
With ‘Shit Britain’ the music is thoroughly ambient. The thrumming bass of big clubs with layers of soft-edged synth. The song charts the fall of the United Kingdom into irrelevance as people argue amongst themselves (possibly about the re-introduction of imperial measures).
‘What More Do You Want’ aligns with the more chaotic beat poems on the album. The lyrics are given space, with a beat that is random with moments of flow to come later. This is interspersed with fulsome guitar and drum rages, creating a call-and-response format where the minister calls ‘the slow grinding death of the English dream’ and the congregation responds with a collective anguished ‘waaaaaaaaaaaooooow’.
Though ‘Meat Teeth’ sounds like a Therapy? song title, (and some of the sentiment of ‘Poundland of Hope and Glory’ is echoed in this release), this is more akin to ‘Shit Britain’ in style. Things are kept low through ‘Mindset’.
‘Flag’ has a Prodigy-esque feel, an electro-punk fuzz with angular words. As the title suggests is concerns the act of flag-waving and how we are given pantomime parades and events to raise flag-proud feelings while everything is wrecked. This could be the May 2023 anthem, as we are encouraged to puff out our chests once more ‘WAVE YOUR FLAG’.
Privilege won’t save you.
Eton won’t save you.
People who speak Latin WILL NOT save you.
The powerful ‘Traitors’ is a discordant explosion. In Benefit’s own words: ‘It’s supposed to be uncomfortable and intense…and not quite right’. Musically, it is reconstructed from remote recordings in a Newcastle practice room, a Stockton kitchen, and some drum recordings from Saltburn that were intended for a different song.
Rule Britannia playing on the radio twenty four hours a day
Union flags hung in every street
Spitfires fly past, homeless pile up, no one gives a fuck
We get the future you deserve
Sell yer guitars. Pawn yer clarinet.
Fuck your creativity. Fuck you dreams.
The new normal does not need entertainment. It needs only work.
Viable work. Retrain.
Stop moaning. Get a job making fucking flags.
Shut up now. Shut up. SHUT UP.
It all ends on a ‘Council Rust’. The song swims in synth – more gentle – seeming to parody a guided meditation. The lyrics cast urban decay in a glorious early ray of sun, though it’s not exactly what it seems.
Living rooms full of dead flowers
Metal plated windows glistening wild on empty towers
That constant reminder, the blood stained underpass
The front door porch of broken frosted glass
Yes, there is dissatisfaction, rage, and noise here – but also art.
The dissatisfaction never drops below one hundred per cent, the expression through the noise is arranged in waves on the album. If this is by design, it’s a wise setup. It stops your ears from getting used to the volume, so all the songs have the impact of the first.
The themes of decay, flag-waving, empires, and subjugation are persistent. This is the kind of music that has to leak out from a society built to serve the greed of billionaires and where a million people must be stripped of their last penny, just so the Western oligarchs can add another £10,000 to their hoard.
Though the album art is the word NAILS, stretched tall and almost imperceptible black on a dark grey background – it could well have been a picture of England being tossed into a greasy bin.
The record really deserves the vinyl experience. All the translucent orange vinyl is gone, but the white vinyl is still available at the time of writing. Maybe buy a second copy and gift it to your member of parliament.
Written by Fenton on