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With Chants for Socialists, Darren Hayman has created a modern take on some political songs from a pamphlet by the 19th century polymath, Arts and Crafts pioneer and outspoken socialist William Morris. Yet instead of responding to the boldness of Morris' artistic vision, the strength of his political convictions or the stark idiosyncrasies of his utopian vision in any musical respect, Hayman has let the words of the original songs speak for themselves and grounded them in tepid compositions of folk-inflected indie rock. In this way it is completely different from what we'd expect from a politicized record in this age. It's not a Streetcleaner, it's certainly not Scum and it's in a completely different universe to London Zoo. And who says it has to be? Chants for Socialists is obviously not meant to figure a nihilistic cry of anger or despair at the damage inflicted by late capitalism on society, but a faithful tribute to the simple (and by Hayman's assertion, simplistic) principles behind Morris' original 1884 pamphlet. In this respect, it's a sound undertaking, but one whose musical results present little that stimulates.

Hayman has claimed to be impressed by the divisiveness of Morris' pamphlet, and so it seems strange that his musical compositions should sit so immovably in the middle of the road. The arrangement for 'The Day Is Coming' for example features the kind of lazily strummed, ukulele-centred riffing reminiscent of so much of today's glut of Nokia-ad nu-folk. Yet the main problem with this record lies less in such pseudo-political readings of these admittedly rather pleasant arrangements, than in just how tiresome these songs sound. Hayman's voice whines over a drearily banal piano-jazz shuffle on 'A Death Song', whilst the lyrics to 'All For The Cause' are couched in an backing of prettily-picked acoustic guitar that creates a sound far too near to that of the bland, folk-influenced festival fodder of recent years. The altogether staid and pedestrian nature of the music here is no doubt intended, yet this offers little in the way of consolation for the listener. Hayman's celebrated ear for melody is undoubtedly here in some respects, but too much of the album simply seems like filler (in the weary slog of 'The Voice of Toil', especially). Regardless of considerations of this works intended political resonances, the music here seems complacent.

Despite all these misgivings, there's enough on this album to hold the attention, and there are some genuinely well-executed and effective turns. The harmonized group vocals are the album's saving grace. A cappella opener 'Awake London Lads' has all the robust melodicism of a Methodist hymn, with the largely unschooled, volunteer choir creating a stirring introduction, the songs rich harmonies and emotive cadences creating a promising opener. Likewise the brass arrangements create a warm textural bedrock for the largely indie rock-oriented songs, proving particularly pleasing on the resolute plod of 'Down Among The Dead Men'. The coda of 'The Message of the March Wind' has a rousing, gorgeously understated swell to it, whilst the staid groove of 'May Day 1894' seems to sit somewhere between Richard Thompson and Pavement in a way that is not altogether unappealing.

Thus whilst on the whole the album itself presents something of a disappointment, there are many commendable elements to the project as a whole. With recordings taking place at the William Morris Gallery in Walhamstow and Kelmscott House in Hammersmith, Hayman invited strangers from the surrounding areas to provide the group vocals for the album, and printed the album covers by hand using Morris' own press with the help of a handful of volunteers. This project represents a genuine commitment to reviving the principles of communality and accessible art that Morris stood for. However the purpose of this article is to review the musical content of the album, and unfortunately, this is where the work falls somewhat flat. Darren Hayman has undoubtedly done a good thing here, and so it seems a shame that the musical result sounds so uninspiring.

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