'is this music?'   Andrew Clark • Apr 9th, 2012

Alabama 3 appear to be a band that are loved and hated in equal measures. From being lauded by The Guardian as “the best live band in the country”, to a slating by NME (“A monumental waste of time”), everybody seems to have an opinion.

Of course, it can only add fuel to the fire when the band describes themselves as “A pop band, a punk rock, blues and country techno situationist crypto-Marxist-Leninist electro band.” You’d have better luck trying to figure out how to stop Adele from cleaning up at every music awards this year than trying to pin this band down to one genre.

And yet, the sheer ridiculousness of this band is what is appealing. Insisting on releasing their own records, and even pressing them (yes, really) by their own label gives the eightsome a level of creative liberty that most commercially signed bands, one presumes, are crying out for. Yes, this ingenuity may border on an absurdity that rivals the band members’ names (Rock Freebase, LB Dope and Stevie Nicked stand out as sounding particularly trippy), but that appears to be the whole point of this band. They get to write their own rules, and utilise this by mixing more sounds, styles and samples than Skrillex could ever hope to stuff into a laptop and turn into a Doors remix.

It all sounds like a bit of a riot, really. Which is why it is not surprising at all that this, their ninth studio offering, includes recordings of the sirens and carnage that swept England during the riots last year. In a way, this album reflects that pandemonium, due to the sheer diversity of it. You never know what recognisable riff or unexpected acid house beat is going to pop up next. It sounds like it should just be one giant uncoordinated mess, right?

Think again. In the midst of the chaos, the group have created an original and incredibly refreshing LP. This album would sound at home in a club just as much as it would in your bedroom. If anything, they have added even more layers to their sound, with an electrical and funky influence joining the rock, house, gospel, blues, hip-hop, and a million other concepts that I’m not even sure there are names for yet. ‘I Blame Kurt Cobain’, the album’s second song, is a perfect example of this, transporting the listener from a garagey hint of slow dubstep to a mosh-pit of Nirvana samples, via a bridge of reggae and jungle beats. Yeah, you’d find it hard to describe too. But, impossibly, it works.

This is in no small part down to the fact that through all the different styles, an overriding narrative becomes clear. The answer lies within the album title.

“Shoplifting of all kinds is part of life these days,” comments frontman Larry Love. “Looters steal, bankers steal, the government steals-from us – so why can’t musicians steal from one another? We could call it a kind of honour amongst thieves.”

This appears to act as a retort to the argument that, despite their insanely unique sound, Alabama 3 are not actually “original”, as they use riffs and samples that already exist. Such honesty is very rare in the music industry, and it is probably this honesty, one believes, that keeps many bands from suing them. Yes, they are using songs, but in no way could they ever be defined as an outright cover or a plagiarism.

Despite this unorthodox yet effective way of making music, you can’t help but feel the London-based band may have gone slightly overboard on the “borrowing”. OK, I know that this is probably deliberate, along with every other preposterous aspect of this album, but when samples are thrown into songs for the sheer sake of it, as appears to be done in the chorus “Black Dog”, you can’t help but become sceptical. A slow, mellow acoustic riff accompanied by Love’s smooth, low vocals switching out of nowhere to a harmonic gospel-sounding phrase doesn’t quite appear to gel.

Having said that, this is just one of very few disappointments on the album, with its majority not only inviting the listener to broaden their musical boundaries, but to think about relevant issues. ‘Facebook.con’ questions the nature of friendship that social media has created, and the theme of the riots, the upcoming (and in many cases, uprising) generation, and political statements interact with biblical passages time and time again in this LP.

As enjoyable as this album is, it is very important to note, especially to new listeners, that Alabama 3 are not for the faint-hearted. You will have to be prepared to have your musical comfort zone obliterated in order to try and understand Shoplifting 4 Jesus. This is not an album of singles. You will have to listen to it all the way through. And repeat it. A lot. In all honesty, I’m still not sure I’ve taken in half of what the band are putting across in the record. But that doesn’t mean it’s not one hell of a ride. In retrospect, I think that in itself is what makes this band relevant.