Shakin' Stevens "Echoes Of Our Times"

Review: Shakin’ Stevens, “Echoes Of Our Times”

Shakin’ Stevens has always seemed slightly out of place. Having diligently kept the rock ‘n’ roll flame burning throughout the ’70s, he found enormous chart success at the beginning of the ’80s with revivals of ’50s hits and original songs in a similar style, while all around him were discovering synthesizers and slapping on make-up like it was going out of fashion. Which it did, of course, while Shaky stuck rigidly to his formula with consistent success; by the end of the decade he had enjoyed 28 top forty hits and secured his place in history as the biggest selling UK singles act of the ’80s. Strangely though, his albums also seemed firmly rooted in the pre-Beatles era, in that they consisted of two or three great hit singles amongst a landslide of filler: second-rate cover versions, inconsequential fluff with cringeworthy titles like Diddle I or Boppity Bop and even, in the case of 1987’s Let’s Boogie, a live hits medley which fills the whole of side two.

So the announcement of a new Shakin’ Stevens album – eleven years after his previous set and a full twenty-six since his last non-compilation entry on the album chart, the self-explanatory There Are Two Kinds Of Music: Rock ‘n’ Roll! – may not have left you breathless with anticipation. Echoes Of Our Times, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish. From the pounding intro to opening track Down in the Hole it’s immediately clear that the family-friendly rock ‘n’ roll with a light entertainment sheen has been entirely dispensed with. After five decades Stevens has expanded his musical horizons to take in that which came before and inspired his beloved rock ‘n’ roll, gathering up armfuls of blues, country and even Cajun influences and putting them together to make something quite startling.

Lyrically too, these songs are light years away from his earlier work; at the age of 68, the generic rock ‘n’ roll tropes of (a) young love or (b) young love gone bad no longer wash. Instead Stevens has written the most personal lyrics of his entire career, inspired by his research into his family background. Down in the Hole relates the horrific conditions his grandfather endured in the Cornish copper mines, Behind Those Secrets and Lies discusses long-standing feuds within his own family and the album’s title track is inspired by his relatives’ experiences in the First World War. Not exactly Oh Julie then.

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It’s hard to know exactly when it’s too late to make an abrupt stylistic change and successfully regain credibility after many years of critical indifference, but Echoes Of Our Times brings to mind other career reinventions such as Alvin Stardust’s excellent (and sadly posthumous) 2014 set Alvin, or even Johnny Cash’s Rick Rubin-produced later works. From the claustrophobic blues of Suffer Little Children to the rousing closer (and first single) Last Man Alive, Shakin’ Stevens has finally made a proper album and it may turn out to be the most important record of his career.

9/10