West London five-piece Chubby and the Gang are balanced by two energies – a casual “fuck it” on one side, an active “fuck off” on the other. For every moment of punk imperfection, there’s an intricate flurry of detail. For every enraged statement about modern life as war, there’s a lyric like “Hello heartbreak, my old friend” that catches you off guard. Made up of musicians from across the consistently thriving and criminally overlooked UK hardcore scene (ft. The Chisel and more), Chubby and the Gang marinate its characteristic speed and sick-of-it-all energy in a mixture of 50s pop sounds. The result is a prickly take on the older, more melodic genres that punk derives from, chewing them up and spitting them out into something mangled but revitalised.
Fronted by Charlie Manning Walker (aka Chubby Charles), the band tell stories of modern London. Charlie has lived in west London all his life and works full-time as an electrician, and most of the band also work trade or artisan jobs. As a result their songs are inherently political, rather than political by design. Alongside classic rock and roll themes of love and loss, Charlie’s lyrics are rooted in worker’s rights, inequality, police brutality, government failure and gentrification – issues that are built into the fabric of the UK, and magnified in the English capital.
Despite the chaos of these inspirations, Chubby and the Gang’s music is straight-forward and – for a hardcore band – accessible. The songs are rigid, the structures are traditional, and the lyrics are on the nose. Life isn’t dissected as much as presented – matter of factly, though not without poetry – through personal experience. “The world is abstract enough,” Charlie explains. “You don’t need to use metaphors and stuff because it’s already fucking mental. Even reality feels removed from reality at this point.”
Through sheer force of strength, their debut album Speed Kills – produced by Fucked Up’s Jonah Falco and first released in January 2020 through the UK DIY label Static Shock – pummelled its way out of the local hardcore scene and across the Atlantic, where it was met with a landslide of critical acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. It’s a strange twist of fate that almost all of this has happened during the pandemic, preventing the band from playing shows and engaging with the buzz around them (something Charlie describes as “like waiting for a pizza that’s never going to come.”) However, that looks set to change by the time they drop their second album The Mutt’s Nuts on August 27th via Partisan Records.
Fifteen tracks of unruly disaffection, The Mutt’s Nuts leans into melody and experimentation even more. The first six songs are punk rager after punk rager, bursting forward at full pelt as Charlie seethes at landlords (“It’s Me Who Will Pay”) and the school-to-prison pipeline (“Coming Up Tough”), brings photographic moments of cab driving (“On The Meter”) and emotional stress (“Pressure”) to life, and rolls his eyes in the face of institutional bullshit (“Did I stutter? Did I fuck”, he spits on “It’s Me Who Will Pay”).
Starting with the Elvis Costello-reminiscent “Take Me Home To London”, the album’s second half is peppered with slower, stripped-back songs that push their 50/60s pop influence even further. “Life’s Lemons” is a good old fashioned rock and roll ballad, complete with Meg’s backing vocals and the kind of organ tone that recalls a bible belt church service or a Vegas wedding. “I Hate The Radio” draws from a similar era, with all the trimmings of a 60s pop classic (including a tambourine). Meanwhile, “Lightning Don’t Strike Twice” is a three-minute ride through the album’s entire moodboard. It opens with lap slide noodling, makes a handbrake turn into anthemic pub rock with snarling lyrics about “piss stained alleys” and “rotten concrete”, breaks for a rhythm and blues jam session and picks up the pace again to finish.
While not all of Charlie’s influences are apparent – they’re infinite, and range from Hank Williams to The Bobby Fuller Four to Skeeter Davis to Lightnin’ Hopkins to Brooklyn-based 50s girl groups to British blue-eyed soul and Merseybeat – they do manifest in the band’s obvious appetite to do something different, something exciting.
The Mutt’s Nuts was recorded over ten days in July, with Jonah [Falco, producer] describing the process as “more of a spirit of collaboration”. Jonah adds, “After Speed Kills, the challenge was to make something that was a bit more dynamic. So the studio process was heavily focused on performance and giving the songs a bit more room to be themselves, because there’s a lot of charisma and personality there that doesn’t always come through if you rush through stuff.
Along with the ongoing pandemic, 2020 also brought huge political upheaval – particularly in the US, where mass protests in response to the death of George Floyd by police homicide have continued since May. This combination of increased isolation and grief over the last year is perhaps why The Mutt’s Nuts hits a more introspective note and feels underpinned by a real heavy heart. “Because we were in lockdown, I had a lot more time to lament on situations rather than just scribbling it all down,” says Charlie. “I think as a person I’m more confident to express myself now. Anyone can posture, but it takes a bit of bollocks to actually sit there and try to tell someone how you really feel.
As well as being more autobiographical, the politics are also more specific in places. “The world is burning, Minneapolis too / Set alight by the boys in blue,” drawl the opening lyrics of “White Rags”, addressing the Black Lives Matter protests directly. The instrumental’s marching pace and menacing tone is unlike anything Chubby and the Gang have done before, but it was written before the protests kicked off. Charlie changed the lyrics before going into the studio. “I was like, nah, I can’t fucking sit here, put out a record, talk about what’s on my mind and not even touch on what’s happened,” he says. “If music can’t touch on shit like that then what’s the fucking point.”
The reason Chubby and the Gang stood out in the first place was for their unique way of messing with pop formulas without losing the energy unique to punk and hardcore. The Mutt’s Nuts doubles down on that, fuelled by a “fuck it, I’ll show you” attitude that elbows its way out of any boxes and shows the true breadth of what the band is capable of, whether that involves a ripping slide guitar solo or moments of stark emotional vulnerability. “You can’t tell someone you love them by throwing a chair across the room, you know what I mean?” says Charlie. “I can’t express that in a song if I don’t fucking drop it down a notch.”
Stuart Gili Ross
Sarah Joy – ATC (UK/ROW)
Alex Cull – Brace Yourself