Last year’s most impressive punk rock success story was Stiff Little Fingers’ No Going Back, an album whose production was entirely fan-funded through PledgeMusic, reaching 120% of its goal on the first day. Recorded in February, it ascended to #1 in the U.K. charts by mid-September. Not bad for a feisty Belfast combo who’ve been around in one form or another since 1977. Though best known for excoriating the British military presence in Northern Ireland via now-classic punk standards such as “Suspect Device” and “Alternative Ulster,” SLF began directing their venom at a wider field of targets when the 21st century neared, with 1994’s uneven Get a Life taking aim at falsified police convictions and 2003’s superb Guitar and Drum passionately denouncing faux pop stars of the sort manufactured in TV singing contests.
No Going Back now offers SLF’s broadest and, in many ways, boldest attack yet. Band leader and frontman Jake Burns has plenty to be angry about these days, using his powerful pipes to assault two-faced politicians (“Liar’s Club”), rich men devoid of social conscience (“I Just Care About Me”), crooked investors (“Good Luck with That”), the Catholic clergy’s child abuse cover-up (“Guilty as Sin”), and the institutionalized betrayal of undocumented immigrants (“Trail of Tears”). Some of his hottest wrath is leveled at the pension-raiders behind the international fiscal collapse in “Full Steam Backwards,” on which he rages, “You couldn’t see the bastards making hay/You’re sailing full steam backwards every day.” That SLF is able to sling such weighty, verbose barbs amid frantic, toe-tapping beats and adorn them with catchy fist-in-the-air choruses is as much a testament to Burns’ experience as a seasoned counterculture songsmith as it is to the maturity and scope of his worldview.
But this disc’s finest songs look inward, not out. “When We Were Young” revisits Burns’ own headstrong origins, nostalgically contrasting his current outrage against a sampled verse from SLF’s 1979 single “At the Edge.” Best of all, Burns’ intensely personal and revealing “My Dark Places” chronicles his extended battle with depression (in live performances, he dedicates the song to suicidal actor Robin Williams) and his ultimate triumph over those inner demons. Its exultant and liberating chorus, from which the album derives its title, finds Burns crying exuberantly, “I’m not going back/ I’m not going back/ To my dark places.” Which is, ultimately, an even greater success story than the album itself.
Stiff Little Fingers
No Going Back