Anarchism, Activism & Shoplifting — Chumbawamba Say 'Sod Off'

British collective shows documentary, plans new album for next year.

CHICAGO — Chumbawamba will celebrate their 20th anniversary in

January by doing what they do best — waxing political on an

album that explores new territory for the tubthumping anarchist rave

rockers.

The as-yet-untitled release will combine dance tracks with samples of

British folk tunes, singer Dunstan Bruce said Tuesday at the Chicago

Underground Film Festival at the famed Biograph Theater. His remarks

accompanied the Stateside premiere of Chumbawamba's documentary,

"Well Done. Now Sod Off."

"The last album flopped terribly," Bruce said of 2000's

WYSIWYG (see "Chumbawamba Returning With New Album,

Bassist"). "It was a real cut-and-paste album. This is more a

collection of songs. It's more of a post-punk album than an

in-your-face album."

WYSIWYG's poor sales cost the Chumbas their European record

deal with EMI, though their American label, Universal Records, is

scheduled to release their new album early next year — a shocker

even to Bruce.

"Universal must have a lot of copies [of WYSIWYG] in a

warehouse somewhere," he joked. In all seriousness (which with this

band, as their documentary shows, isn't terribly serious),

Chumbawamba have quit trying to top the charts with another

"Tubthumping."

"We've given up trying to figure out what makes a radio-friendly

single," Bruce said. "We've tried and it doesn't work. We don't know,

so we just do what we want to do." As fellow singer Alice Nutter says

in "Sod Off," "We get a lot of crap for being a one-hit wonder, but

we always expected to be a no-hit wonder."

Like all the band's previous recordings, the new album features

political statements likely to stir up controversy, at least in their

British homeland. One track attacks U.K. law enforcers for shooting

and killing a man they believed was armed, but who was actually

carrying a table leg in a paper bag.

"Well Done. Now Sod Off" explains Chumbawamba's nonconformist ideals and chronicles the eight-member punk collective through their years

of communal living and political activism, which peaked at 1998's

Brit Awards when they doused England's deputy prime minister with

water.

Directed by Ben Unwin, "Sod Off" is as much comedy as political

statement, however. Bruce and cohorts are hilarious as they reminisce

about their shoplifting contests — who could steal the strangest

item? — before each gig. Bruce also laughs his way through

several reviews and letters slamming Chumbawamba. One critic wrote,

"Everyone should hear this album to know what horrible music sounds

like." Another ended a sarcastic review, "Well done Chumbawamba. Now

sod off!" — hence the film's title.

According to Bruce, the group originally planned to release a

compilation of their videos until the Sex Pistols' "The Filth and the

Fury," Fugazi's "Instrument" and Radiohead's "Meeting People Is

Easy" inspired them to do a documentary: "Besides, our videos

aren't that good anyway."

"When we had the success with 'Tubthumping,' a lot of people thought

that was our first album. We wanted to let people know we had a huge

history," Bruce added. "And now when our kids think we were really

square, we can say, 'This is what I did for the punk war.' "

Chumbawamba will continue to show "Well Done. Now Sod Off" at film

festivals for the rest of the year. Next year they hope to broadcast

it on television overseas.