Yard Act’s debut The Overload points and laughs at cultural decay
If there’s a silver lining to the current socio-economic strife sweeping the planet, at least we’re getting great punk music out of it. The soil of discontent hasn’t been this fertile since the Reagan/Thatcher era. When Yard Act’s The Overload first dropped in England in January 2022, it was a surprise smash hit, and quickly became the fastest-selling vinyl album of this century. Being featured on the FIFA 2022 soundtrack also didn’t hurt, despite the crushing irony of that inclusion. Now they’re looking to take over the world.
Despite the very very British vibe of this Leeds-based band, their message will likely resonate with anyone looking at the post-industrial decay around them and wondering “what the hell went wrong?”
The Overload kicks off with its title track, a poppy number with a killer hook for its chorus, setting the stage for the album: trying to hold onto a basic sense of decency, even as everything seems to be going crazy.
Lead singer James Smith proudly flaunts his working-class accent, shifting constantly between singing and a declaratory style which is somewhere between rap and slam poetry. It gives the album its own unique feel, while making it clear that this is a band that has something to say, and wants to make their ideas clear.
However, what makes Yard Act stand out isn’t their anger; it’s their humor. Underneath the rage – and there is plenty of rage – is a set of quirky and often genuinely funny lyrics that take the edge off, while still shaking their fist at the sad state of the world.
Perhaps the most openly satirical track, ‘Rich’ describes the singer accidentally becoming rich “through continued reward for skilled labour in the private sector / And a genuine lack of interest in expensive things.” Of course, he spirals into depravity, until he becomes so rich he’s “literally drowning in it” while still claiming he’ll never lose the plot… and then develops gout.
The rest of the band – Needham (bass), Sam Shjipstone (guitar), and Jay Russell (drums) – are largely in the background. However, the instrumentation and arrangement are frequently as cheeky and quirky as the lyrics, throwing in weird percussive instruments or oddly retro synth lines for emphasis, and to prevent the sometimes tuneless lyrics from becoming monotonous.
The result is a fusion of the old and new, an album whose roots can clearly be traced back to pioneers like the Sex Pistols, while updating the themes and tone for modern times.
Politically, the band is largely centrist. They take aim at obvious targets such as racists, repeatedly calling out people who are afraid of anyone who looks different than them. However, they are equally contemptuous of hypocrites on both sides, along with the rich, and seem to largely be pleading for sanity more than any particular political solution.
Then, just as the album starts feeling a bit repetitive, they shake things up with the final track: ‘100% Endurance’. In a rare moment of sincerity in an album full of snark, Smith proclaims:
It’s all so pointless
It is and that’s beautiful, l find it humbling, sincerely
And when you’re gone
It brings me peace of mind to know that this will all just carry on.
Elton John took notice and released a second version with the band:
For an album this angry at the world to end on a mellow, almost absurdist message, gives it extra impact. Yard Act isn’t raging mindlessly, and they’re still seeking some measure of peace like everyone else.
The Overload is a standout work from start to finish, and has clearly struck a nerve in the UK. There’s no reason it couldn’t do the same around the world.