Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life On Earth (Nonesuch Records)

Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life On Earth (Nonesuch Records)

The world is in flux, ravaged by a climate crisis, a pandemic, cost of living crises and conflict. There’s no right or wrong way for an artist to respond to what could be considered an existentially depressing situation but sometimes an artist strikes upon something and the spark catches and starts a fire – it sounds right and it works for our times.

Hurray For The Riff Raff’s seventh album works, in a myriad of restrained and intelligent ways. It’s a record that takes some fairly bleak, troubling topics and creates bold musical statements that are hopeful, or at the very least offer a roadmap for navigating these strange times. There’s a sense throughout Life On Earth of looking around at the world, of watching the news and reading dire headlines and of allowing that sense of despair to wash over you but somehow finding a way to carry on. There is a simple, understated kind of defiance running through the tracks on this album; a defiance that doesn’t seek to hide from how bad things are but that turns looking after yourself and your loved ones into a form of personal activism. As Alynda Segarra sings on title track Life On Earth: life on earth is long” with the implication perhaps being that we had better make the best of it that we can, in whatever form that manifests.

Opening song ‘Wolves’ captures the juxtaposition that is central to the record perfectly. “Not safe at home anymore / Gotta run babe, you know how to run” – relatively dark lyrics set over a big open synth sound. The music feels happy, airy, soaring; the end of the world never sounded so good. ‘Pierced Arrows’ is a delicate anthem in the face of overwhelming odds, with a vocal delivery that reminds of St Vincent.

‘Saga’ again is jaunty and upbeat whilst the lyrics touch on difficult subjects that all form part of a collective human experience that almost all of us can relate to, with the simplest of desires contained within the chorus “I just wanna be free“.  ‘Precious Cargo’ is one of the most powerful tracks, not only on this record but arguably in Hurray For The Riff Raff’s entire career. It’s explicitly political but it isn’t preaching or table-thumping aggressive. It is measured anger delivered through the story of a friend Segarra visited whilst he was detained in an ICE detention facility, as part of her work for the campaigners Freedom For Immigrants. The conversational style coupled with a simple back beat is incredibly effective; a demonstration that to be punk you don’t have to scream and shout.

‘Rhododendron’ written with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James lists various plants, and it sounds every bit the ‘nature punk’ label that some media outlets have been attaching to Segarra. It isn’t just a throwaway track though by any means. Plants form a significant part of the philosophical makeup of the album, which is another subtle piece of defiance. Plants somehow survive against the odds, they regenerate, they return to abandoned lots and somehow break through concrete or buildings to reclaim their place and to grow. It is perhaps a lesson, something for the human spirit to emulate and cling on to. And it is a plant and the natural world that fittingly has the final say on the record. ‘Kin’ is a short field-recording of an oak tree covered in wind chimes in a New Orleans park. It is a place where Segarra spent a lot of time during the pandemic and it feels like a fitting note for the album to end on, a natural note of survival and resilience, despite everything.

Musically Life On Earth is diverse and adventurous, continuing the evolution away from old-world Americana to draw in a multitude of styles, genres and influences. The electronic-pop of ‘nightqueen’ sits perfectly alongside the funeral jazz piano piece of the title track. No one individual can save the world but artists can respond to the world, respond to our times and make a statement. Life On Earth is a statement of compassion, humanity, defiance, resilience, passion, nature, love and punk. Hurray For The Riff Raff don’t hide away from the challenges we face or the state of the world but they’ve created a body of work that offers us something to cling to. And for that we should all be grateful.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.