Skin - Fleshwounds (CD)

EMI 0724358415926, released 2 June 2003

For years throughout the mid to late 1990s, Skunk Anansie were a rock band in the ascendancy. They wrote some great songs, were a really good live experience (the fact I saw them five times must say something) and fronted by lead singer Skin, who with her shaven head looked pretty scary, and when she yelled out some of the lyrics really did seem scary too, although she was always very down-to-earth in interviews. Skunk Anansie came to pass during 2001, and it was a sad day for fans of proper rock music.

So what now? After some soul-searching, Skin returns. Not just with a head of hair (the striking difference between the cover of this CD and SA's first album "Paranoid and Sunburnt" is one to check out for yourself) but also with a more melancholy attitude to her songwriting. This is in fact the major difference: no more the 100mph anthemic rock tunes that made SA so great. However, if you liked the likes of "Weak", "Brazen (Weep)" and "Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good)" where the tone was much softer in SA's songs, then you are some way to seeing how Skin is developing herself solo, as the first single "Trashed" seemed to prove. I think it's important to note this: the album isn't full on rock, so if you don't expect that, then you won't be disaapointed. And she kept her old SA co-songwriter, Len Arran, for the majority of the tracks, too.

Most of the songs on the album seem to be about the pain of lost love or friendship, certainly the lyrics seem to refer to that. "Faithfulness" refers to how if you lie to each other, sometimes it's a white lie you both do and end up both running from. The opening is morose enough, but the chorus kicks in very nicely with a strong electric bass provided by Gail Ann Dorsey, who's played on a lot of David Bowie's recent albums. And with good reason: she's very accomplished and it gives the chorus and end part the emphasis it needs - and with that added edge, this definitely should have been the first single. Gail's on some other tracks of the album too, so that's a positive.

Most of you will have heard the single "Trashed" by now, and it's actually one of the weakest tracks on the album, despite a catchy chorus that draws you in. "Don't Let Me Down" in comparison is something we've all been through: when someone doesn't want you for any more than lust and how let down you are. The fact there's a wurlitzer in this track actually works, as it gives a nice backing to Skin's voice and makes the tune melodic and almost cinematic. "Listen Yo Yourself" takes a while to get going, a wake up call it is though, and again Dorsey's bass really cuts it up nicely and almost makes it like a Skunk Anansie track of old as the song develops nicely. It needed maybe to be a little quicker paced, although there's a nice harmonica solo in the instrumental break.

"Lost" was co-written by Guy Chambers (the guy partly responsible for some of Robbie Williams' hits) and it shows. It's pop by numbers with Guy taking piano and keyboard duties and almost sounds like a song he could have written for RW. Whether you think that's a good or bad thing, decide for yourself. However, the best track on the album follows next, and is one of two tracks ex-SA bassist Cass Lewis plays on, much welcomed. "The Trouble With Me" is really beautiful as the song starts sparse and is then given space to develop with Cass' bass gently giving the whole song space to breathe, and Skin's voice is nigh on perfect for this one. "The trouble with me, is my troubles with you" she sings, and it really hides the hidden message so well of how "you'd like me to believe I need no one but you". Everything works, even the little bit of glockenspiel at the start!

"I'll Try" also features Cass on the bass duties, and smacks of frustration yet wishing to stay with someone: "Tell me how you feel and I'll try" she sings in the chorus. Again, the chorus is slightly rockier, with the verses in a nice acoustic mellow mode. It works pretty well. "You've Made Your Bed" has a lot of hidden anger too: "You can't keep coming to me when she ain't coming home". It starts off with just Skin and the piano, and if it had stayed like that through the whole track it would have been great. But a distorted drum pattern beat during the second verse onwards does its best just to get in the way and spoils it for me.

Now "As Long As That's True" has a surprise or two. It starts off melodic enough with just Skin and the piano, but as the song goes on you can feel the nervousness of the background and the lyrics combined and sure enough, around the two minute mark, it gives way to full on guitar and Skin being, well, like Skin used to be: angry and passionate. It works because the song builds up to this part and reminds me of SA - a lot. Then it gives way to an emotional release for the rest of the song which does work pretty well.

"Burnt Like You" is a short but simple piece, with just Skin and acoustic guitar. Kristin Hersh she isn't, but just her and a guitar like that is still pretty good. The song refers to someone constantly drunk to me: "Still swinging vodka punches that don't land right" gives it away a little. The end of this track: with the trumpet and trombonne however, is a different matter. It fails badly. And lastly, "'Til Morning" which is a final cry of pain: "Take these sore eyes, I've no use for them, now I feel there's nothing left to see" and then at the end of this melancholy but beautiful track: "And take you little tricks when you leave". It's a nice slow paced piece which just seems the right backing for this, especially as her co-songwriter Len Arran guests doing the acoustic guitar and just adds a sublime but welcome touch to the whole piece, as some of it sounds in echo far away.

So what of the album? Well, as a first solo album it's a reasonably good effort on the whole. There are moments when musically parts don't add up, but I think that was more down to experimentation than bad musicianship per se. I think as well it'll take those of us who are used to Skin rocking out a fair amount of time to get used to the fact she's completely mellowed out on this album. If you give this a few listens, and can listen with an open mind, then it will grow on you as it has me in parts. A few more tracks with either Gail Ann Dorsey or Cass Lewis on bass would have made the album better than it is, but that's probably me being picky.

Warren's rating: 76%