Album Review: FEVER 333 – STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS
Let’s start 2019 on a positive note, shall we? Admittedly, as the calendar ticks over, it’s easy to take stock of the fact that things look bleak – Brexit, Trump’s still there, we have killed 60 per cent of the world’s wildlife in the last half a century, science’s greatest minds have given us a short 12 years to divert disastrous climate change – but there is still hope. And it is this upon which FEVER 333 thrive. Their mission statement of ‘community, charity, change’ is a call to action – as opposed to simply liking well-meaning pictures on social media – and, crucially, one that actually offers a degree of solution, rather than simply yelling that everything is fucked. If their gigs – demonstrations, as the band call them – lead by example, by donating a share of ticket monies to local charities, then STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS is a foghorn blasting out their manifesto over a soundtrack that’s electrifying, sometimes confrontational, and designed to get you on your feet and ready to fight back.
The ire of FEVER 333 is thrown into your face during the first 30 seconds of Burn It. Jason Aalon Butler’s lyrics take in police brutality, poverty and inequality, as he sings of Los Angeles being on fire. But the energy of the song, the inspirational message, comes from his fearless declaration of having ‘A mouth like Malcolm’ and ‘Fists like Ali’. As a man of colour who has been on the receiving end of racist bullshit from the police, his anger is fierce. It continues in the calmer rap of Inglewood/3, in which he describes in detail the ghetto in which he grew up. But it’s not simply a list of grievances, rather the sound of realising we need to fight for change, of a man refusing to be a victim, wanting to live positively. ‘You’ve got to burn it down,’ goes the chorus to Burn It, but crucially, you do this in order ‘To build it up again.’ It’s this balance of rage and togetherness that is the greatest victory here.
The music upon which all this is carried is the perfect match. The riffs to Prey For Me/3 are incendiary rap-metal explosions that match the fury of the subject matter, but they’re also shot through with washes of soul and funk, encouraging you to dance and come together for a party as much as they can get you fired up and ready to raise your fist. The riffs that come from guitarist Stephen Harrison’s fingers are huge, fat grooves that hit like a smack in the mouth, but just as frequently slither and slink, thrust and strut their way along. The frequent diversions into hip-hop and funk, meanwhile, such as on One Of Us, are like adding extra dollops of cool on to the top.
Amid the chaos, there are gentler moments, though. Prey For Me/3 is a heartfelt thought-bubble from Jason on the prospect of becoming a father, while Am I Here? coasts along on mellow acoustic guitars, as the singer muses that, if he suddenly died, would he be leaving the world ‘In better hands’?
On a creative level, STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS sizzles with invention, crossing genres with a funky spring in its step. But where it truly succeeds is in its enormous heart, and its desire for inclusivity, community and simply for people to be better to one another. Where it would be easy to take a pop at obvious targets, FEVER 333 offer an idea of how to be the change you want to see in the world. In doing so, they’ve created a record with an energy to it that only comes from truly believing in what you’re doing, and here Jason reckons he and his band are capable of setting the world on fire and rebuilding it in a fairer, more pleasant image. Here’s hoping.
Words: Nick Ruskell
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