Album review: Zebra and Giraffe – “Knuckles”

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When guitarist Alan Shenton told me that Zebra & Giraffe are releasing a new album, I was excited but sceptical.The Wisest Ones could be that one album that was unsurpassable. Like Led Zeppelin IV or Muse’s Origin of Symmetry. (Let’s not put these lads into those categories yet, though.)
However, these Johannesburg boys decided to play it safe with their fourth album, Knuckles, and instead of going all-out with a brand spanking new style, given us a teaser of what’s to come.
With the listening quality that’s more of an EP than an album, the band has grown from the young naivety of Collected Memories, the awkward teenage The Inside phase and the all-grown-up The Wisest Ones and are dipping their toes in something grittier and dirtier.

And by dipping their toes, I mean it’s a six-track album with a deluxe edition of (gasp) TWO whole bonus tracks. It’s a brave move, but also a smart one – not putting extra stuff on an album just for the sake of it. I like that it’s well thought-out and not a few random singles slapped onto one album.

In essence, Knuckles is more alternative rock with heavier guitar than all Z&G’s previous album, but what is striking for me is lead singer Greg Carlin’s vocal prowess. The rest of the band sound far cleaner and more put together than previous albums, and it’s far more melodious and well-constructed rather than using distortion to mask what could have been uncertainty.

Mike Wright’s drumming has grown from being pretty rudimentary and dictated by the other instruments to a beast of its own. I like. A lot.

[Aside: The Wisest Ones was for me the pinnacle of Carlin’s lyrical work so far and he had a lot to live up to here. He didn’t quite make it.]

Opening with the powerful I’ve Been Bad – the first single – Carlin’s unique vocals carry on the theme of despair and desperation. “There were passengers and hangers on/Those messed up kids where have they gone?/The stupid fights those fucked up nights,” he sings to the backdrop of slick production.

Mellowing out with Dive (Into the Deep End), the album shows how put-together the melodies are, and this could be my favourite song off this album. Shenton is far more talented than people give him credit for.

Dancing, however lyrically beautiful, sounds a bit weak. Pretty. But weak. “Let’s go dancing in the darkness / We can be free / We can take all of our guards down and disappear” – some prettiness right there.

Does God Love Me? makes me wonder – I thought The Wisest Ones placed Carlin firmly in the hands of the Devil in its subject matter – but it’s catchy and upbeat, kind of like the grown-up version of The Knife.

Goodbye is kind of like what Z&G could be if they went totally pop-rock. I don’t know what to make of it, really.

The title track is more like it. The familiar Z&G sound we’re used to and love. And it shows off his magnificent vocal abilities and the band’s ability to come together and make magic.

The stripped-down versions of Knuckles and Dive show the band’s versatility in working with minimal sound.

Knuckles is a kind of a bridging album; a gateway for what is to come from Z&G. It’s not their finest piece of work, but it is saying something – the band is now settled in their lineup, stable, cemented and ready to grow from strength to strength from here.

Rating: 6/10Nikita Ramkissoon

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Nikita Ramkissoon

Editor at So Much Music
Nikita is a Journalism and Education lecturer by day and music Jedi master by night. She can be seen in the photography pit or stage left with her Wookie husband. She can also be found trying to source corn dogs. If you see her, buy her a corn dog. She loves corn dogs.