The image of a tall, androgynous, black female singer (in hard rock, no less) unwilling to bow to social conventions was a refreshing change during the 90’s grunge scene. Skin, the singer from the multi-platinum selling UK group, Skunk Anansie, managed to gain a legion of devoted fans despite her shaved head, tribal-inspired makeup and her biting lyrics about racism, politics and forbidden sexual desire.
After gaining recognition for their single “Selling Jesus”, off of 1995’s Paranoid and Sunburnt, and their appearance in the movie Strange Days, people were intrigued not only by the eclectic singer but the band’s unique blend of hard rock, metal and electronica. Guitarist Ace, bassist Cass Lewis and drummer Mark Richardson provided just the right backdrop for the tumultuous sound, and together the four managed to make it last for awhile, at least until 1999, when they released their third and final album, Post Orgasmic Chill.
The final offering was a noticeable departure from both their fiery debut and equally aggressive sophomore effort, 1996’s Stoosh, as it was more somber, introspective and mirrored both the internal struggles within the band and the external problems that plagued them as they rose to stardom. The first single released, “Charlie Big Potato”, reached #17 on the UK music charts. Both beautiful and haunting, the song narrated the struggle between an abuser and his/her victim, in a sense providing the thematic skeleton for the album.
One does not know whether Skin, who softly (but eerily) croons, “I awake/from blood thick dreams/washing blame/from my knees,” was telling a story about incest — perhaps her own, or someone she knows –, spousal abuse, or alleged victimization by leaders of the British Government. Like many of her previous tracks, there’s an inferences in what she’s saying, but it begs for a clear interpretation, which makes for an interesting and provocative listen. As the song continues, harsh and sharp orchestral strings mark the urgency of her message, swelling alongside her cries of “Tell it like it is/tell them!”
Probably the most recognizable single off of Post Orgasmic Chill is “Secretly”, a ballad about unrequited love, which at the time was interesting as Skin (whose sexual orientation was always questioned in the media) left her songs about love and love loss open for interpretation. From the shrill screams and growls in “On My Hotel TV” and “The Skank Heads (Get Off Me)” to the sad, passionate purrs on ”You’ll Follow Me Down”, no one could ignore her remarkable vocal range. That explains why she would go on to contribute vocals for other projects, most notably Tony Iommi’s solo project, 2000’s Iommi. Even after Skunk Anansie disbanded, Skin abandoned her rock roots and released two solo albums, 2003’s Fleshwounds and 2006’s Fake Chemical State, opting to dabble in pop/urban music — though she’s hardly left the rock scene.
No, she’s back with the band again. This past spring, Skunk Anansie regrouped and played a couple of secret gigs in London. Bolstered by the enthusiastic fan response, the band plans to press forward and embark on a European reunion tour later this year, in support of a greatest hits album. The compilation should prove interesting, given they only have three albums to choose from, and hardly enough singles to make up a wide enough collection. Instead, they’ll have to dig around the brief discography, which is actually quite a task.
Even 10 years later, it’s still difficult to decide which album reigns supreme. Few would argue that Post Orgasmic Chill is Skunk Anansie’s most musically diverse effort to date, but nobody can truly hold one album above the other. Really, it all comes down to mood. If you’re pissed off (angry even), check out Paranoid and Sunburnt. If you’re suffering from a mood disorder, you might be better off with Stoosh. When it comes to Post Orgasmic Chill, it might be a little bit of both. Looking back, however, all three are highly recommended and definitely worth a listen.