When Fight Like Apes’ debut album, 2008’s Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion, was met with grumblings of discontent, it was interpreted by some either as an example of good old-fashioned Irish begrudgery or as a kneejerk, indier-than-thou reaction to their increasing mainstream popularity. After all, what was not to love about a band who, famed for their raucous live shows, brought a heavy dose of fun, energy and irreverence to the table?
Yet there was more to it than mere hipster crankiness. Fight Like Apes’ early EPs were indeed superb, with tunes like ‘Jake Summers’, ‘Lend Me Your Face’ and ‘Do You Karate?’ striking a perfect balance between abrasive punk attitude and irresistible pop hooks. Yet the re-recorded versions included on the album indicated that the band were over-egging the pudding a bit: in their rejigged form they sounded overproduced and overdone, more try-hard than exuberant.
For follow-up album The Body of Christ and The Legs of Tina Turner, the quartet have effectively stripped things back, with a more rough-and-ready sound and with Gang of Four’s Andy Gill in the producer’s chair. Opening track ‘Come On, Let’s Talk About Our Feelings’ sets the tone nicely: with brattish vocals, sardonic lyrics and trademark spiky synths, it builds from a subdued intro to a frenetic climax, lead singer MayKay repeating the refrain “please accept our sincerest apologies” until it’s nothing less than an earworm. Welcome back. That’s followed by ‘Jenny Kelly’, which sounds just like the Fight Like Apes we first fell in love with, an infectious three-minute punk-pop dash with some nifty guitar.
Lyrically, the band are still happy to document the twisted and the messed-up: “I can’t keep writing songs about cutting you up” sings MayKay on ‘Pull Off Your Arms and Let’s Play in Your Blood’, which has a stuttering, smouldering rhythm reminiscent of Placebo’s ‘Nancy Boy’; while ‘Waking Up With Robocop’ alludes to a less-than-ideal one night stand. It’s not all brash and crude, however, with ‘Thank God You Weren’t Thirsty (Lightbulb)’ showcasing a lyrical vulnerability and a melodic lightness-of-touch that provides some much-needed contrast (although typically, they can’t resist upping the tempo halfway through).
The Body of Christ is certainly a rawer prospect then their debut LP, and the band’s frenzied pop-punk approach benefits from the relative absence of studio trickery. At the same time, it’s a sugary sweet pill and a hyperactive ride that can get wearying over the course of the album. There’s no shortage of energy and hooks, and these songs should translate well live, but with the possible exception of ‘Jenny Kelly’, there’s nothing here that truly matches the excellence of the early material they made their name with. A good album, but not the knock-out they may yet have in them.