Bob Vylan – ‘Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life’

By Ash Bebbington

“Some are drowning in money, I’m barely keeping my head up / price of life on the rise, I’m feeling like it’s a set-up,” spits Bob Vylan – the eponymous vocalist of the band of the same name on their latest record ‘Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life’. He’s angry about the state of the UK, specifically how much it costs to simply survive in a supposedly wealthy nation.

If you aren’t angry too, you’re either privileged, haven’t been paying attention, or both because the UK is currently caught in its biggest cost of living crisis for decades, which has hit low and middle-income people (i.e. most of the country) particularly hard. Almost anyone in the UK could put this album on at the moment and feel some element of solidarity with the lyrics. It’s been a long time since a British punk band has so accurately and angrily nailed the struggles of ordinary people in this country, and done it while writing such fun, catchy songs.

Because of this, ‘Bob Vylan Presents The Price of Life’ is the best politically-driven punk record a UK band has produced in years. It is urgent, angry, and hits all of the difficulties and struggles faced by people who live here with a laser-like focus. This record is essential listening; not just for punk fans, but for anyone living in the UK who is struggling to make ends meet right now.

Sonically, Bob Vylan is a band that mixes punk with UK hip hop and grime to create a unique, unmistakably British sound. In the classic punk style, the instrumentals are often fast and aggressive, jumping between grime and hip hop beats and punk guitars. The music isn’t the most complex, but it makes you want to throw yourself into a pit and provides a musical canvas for vocalist Bob to lay his lyrics over.

Ultimately, this record is a lyrical triumph. There are far too many superb lyrics across the entire record to mention here, but throughout its runtime, there’s an amazing turn of phrase every few seconds. Occasionally it strays into the absurd, but that only serves to make the point they’re making hit even harder, such as with this lyric from ‘Wicked & Bad’: “Let’s go dig up Maggie’s grave and ask her where that milk went… eat the rich before they turn and eat your children”.

As that lyric suggests, Bob Vylan’s views on the state of the country and how they can be fixed aren’t shrouded in metaphor, they are right there in black and white. As well as the cost of living, it covers racism, class, crime, the police, the housing crisis, the NHS, the monarchy, fighting fascism, the environment, and more. The scope is absolutely staggering, but it always remains focused by coming around to the way that these issues affect the ordinary person on the street. There aren’t many other rock bands out there right now talking about these topics, and there are none doing them in a way that is so all-encompassing and relatable.

Album opener ‘Wicked & Bad’ gets things started in a suitably raucous fashion, blending together grime beats and punk guitars. ‘Take That’ has a dirty electronic beat, with vocalist Bob at his acidic best. The track covers plenty of topics, making reference to the debate around the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in 2020 by urging listeners to “give Churchill’s statue the rope and see if it floats” before talking about the state of the NHS: “privatise your right to a doctor, choose between your health and rent”.

On that very topic, ‘Health is Wealth’ deals with the difficulty of eating well when you’re struggling financially but reiterates the importance of doing so to help your mental and physical health.

One of the album’s standout tracks ‘Pretty Song’ takes aim at music that is lyrically safe: “I could do this all day long / sing a song, pretty little song / blah blah rah rah rah / that’s alright but I’d rather fight”. The song then goes on to deal with race as singer Bob says: “Black lives have always mattered but you were never told so on TV”.

Lead single “GDP” discusses how economic forecasts and projections are meaningless for people who are struggling and hurting, as Bob hisses “the BBC are talking ‘bout the GDP / that means fuck all to me, I gotta eat”.

In years to come, we’ll look back on ‘Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life’ as a seminal work of political punk. It’s rare for a band to come along and so perfectly capture the mood of the country in a way that’s so cathartic, accurate, and damn good fun all at the same time. If you live in the UK, love punk rock, or both, this record is absolutely essential.

ASH BEBBINGTON

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