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Skunk Anansie: Paranoid & Sunburnt - Album Of The Week Club review

Skunk Anansie melded together rock, punk, dub, reggae and electronica influences on debut album Paranoid & Sunburnt

Skunk Anansie: Paranoid & Sunburnt cover art
(Image: © One Little Indian)
Skunk Anansie: Paranoid & Sunburnt

Skunk Anansie: Paranoid & Sunburnt cover art

(Image credit: One Little Indian)

Selling Jesus
Intellectualise My Blackness
I Can Dream
Little Baby Swastikkka
All in the Name of Pity
Charity
Weak
And Here I Stand
100 Ways to Be a Good Girl
Rise Up

Formed in London in the spring of 1994, Skunk Anansie melded together rock, punk, dub, reggae and electronica influences and quickly built a reputation as a formidable live act. And in the ‘provincial white boys with guitars’ Britrock club, Skunk Anansie stood out like a drum solo at a Ramones gig. 

Fronted by the switchblade-sharp, fearless and charismatic, Brixton-born Skin, the London quartet announced their arrival with the explosive Little Baby Swastikkka before delivering their striking debut album, showcasing Skin’s exceptional vocals amid taut punk/funk/metal songs. Lemmy, an early champion of the band, sang their praises ’til his dying days.

"She makes things sound so easy when she sings it and then you go ahead and give it a shot and it’s not," says another fan, Nightwish's Floor Jansen. "To keep it that powerful and controlled, it’s not easy. Fantastic voice, fantastic songwriter, fantastic performer. Weak As I Am - try and finish that from beginning to end with an untrained voice. It was a challenge."

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in September 1995

  • Roots to Branches - Jethro Tull
  • Stranger In Us All - Rainbow
  • Circus - Lenny Kravitz
  • Dear You - Jawbreaker
  • One Hot Minute - Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • A Change of Seasons - Dream Theater
  • Clouds Taste Metallic - The Flaming Lips
  • Coast to Coast Motel - G. Love & Special Sauce
  • Gilt - Machines of Loving Grace
  • Here's Where the Strings Come In - Superchunk
  • Ledbetter Heights - Kenny Wayne Shepherd
  • See You on the Other Side - Mercury Rev
  • Trace - Son Volt
  • Forever Failure - Paradise Lost
  • Ballbreaker - AC/DC
  • The Carnival Bizarre - Cathedral
  • Exit the Dragon - Urge Overkill
  • Outside - David Bowie
  • Washing Machine - Sonic Youth
  • Herzeleid - Rammstein

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What they said...

"Imagine a voice containing Courtney Love’s sneer and Sinead O’Connor’s purity, seasoned with lyrics detailing 400 years of oppression, and you have Skin, destined to be the one of the most talked-about lead singers this year. Standouts like I Can Dream, Charity, and 100 Ways to Be a Good Girl show that the group can rock hard and wax poetic with the best of them." (Los Angeles Times)

"Vocalist Skin is the real story here, a true soul singer who's comfortable playing a black Pat Benatar. The fact that Skin can so easily balance slick melodies and churning grooves makes the album both oddly charming and downright revolutionary. And Skin knows it too, requesting 'Save me from critical acclaim,' on the record's centerpiece, It Takes Blood And Guts to Be This Cool But I'm Still Just A Cliché, like she knows its already too late." (Austin Chronicle)

"The minor downside is that no matter how strongly you agree with the agenda, the forceful preaching, without any mitigating shades of contrast or subtlety, starts to wear thin (as an audio experience) after a few listens. Fortunately, the music is muscular and interesting enough to carry the burden. Those hungering for protest music working in a '90s rock context can fill their plates and slake their thirst here." (AllMusic)

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What you said...

Bill Griffin: This band must have had a rough go of it on this side of the pond because I've never heard of them before. I honestly didn't expect to think a lot of it but damned if it isn't really good! I don't think I could pick out a particular favourite because all the songs are excellent, inspired hard rock and Skin has a great voice.

Paul Flewitt: This album takes me back to my teen years. Awesome debut!

Philip Qvist: Hard to believe it is over 25 years since this record was released. My first impression of Paranoid & Sunburnt? Angry. My current impression? Still angry.

As debuts go it is pretty good, but not one that really grabbed my attention so that it can be included on my list of greatest ever debut albums.

No doubt about it, Skin is a decent singer and songwriter and definitely puts her heart on her sleeve, but after a while I preferred the more quieter tracks (even if her lyrics on those songs were anything but quiet).

Standout tracks - Selling Jesus, Weak, Rise Up and 100 Ways To Be A Good Girl. A solid 7 for me - definitely their best album.

Keith Daniels: I made it about two seconds after the vocals started on the first song.

Alex Hayes: I had a friend who swore by this album back in the day, although It didn't really do anything for me. 20-odd years of hindsight have been kind to it though. Paranoid & Sunburnt still holds up well as one of the finest, not to mention most thought provoking, albums from the 'Britrock' scene of the mid 90s. Great musicianship too.

Skunk Anansie have always been media darlings. Which in many respects is understandable. I still find the critical praise a little bit hollow though, considering that, at the same time, the band are often treated like a one hit wonder, which they certainly weren't. If the playlists of UK classic rock radio are to be believed, Weak is the only track that Skunk Anansie ever recorded. That's insulting to a group whose first three albums all sold over a million copies across Europe. Weak, of course, can also be found here. Unfortunately, for me, the song's overplayed nature has lessened it's impact.

It's impossible to do a Skunk Anansie review and not make specific mention of the irrepressible Skin, who shines here and is every inch the focal point for Skunk Anansie that Debbie Harry was for Blondie. I must praise the other band members though, all of whom possess far better musical chops than I gave them credit for at the time. Bloody talented band this.

In truth, Paranoid & Sunburnt isn't an album that I'm gonna go back to often. I'm not a big fan of that era of rock and my muse lies elsewhere. It would be foolish not to give it the credit that it deserves though. If nothing else, it's refreshing to listen to a 90s album that isn't 16 tracks long, at least half of which are pure filler, and so tediously meanders on for an hour and a quarter!

Craig Peters: I have to admit I have never listened to this before. The cover is very boring to me. This would cause me to go right by if I didn't know the band.

Listening to it now I would say it didn't do anything for me. It's not something I would consider buying. I'm glad some people like it. I have a hard time judging. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean that it's garbage. I'm going to rate it a 6.

Brett Deighton: Something about Skin’s vocal style makes this a bit hit and miss for me. I did enjoy Weak and I Can Dream’ but found myself losing interest listening to much of the album. Not my cup of tea, but worthy of exploring and I’m sure plenty of others will dig it.

Greg Schwepe: This is a first for me; I was not able to listen to the whole album to review. Believe me I tried, but after the third song I just lost interest. There are very much elements of the band I really like; some of the punky guitar, some of the vocals (reminded me of Corey Glover from Living Colour), but the album just seemed to lose its steam. Not something I could really get into. Had I bought this at the time it came out after maybe hearing something I liked on the radio, I could also see myself going "Hmm....why did I buy this?" after a few listens. Again, that's the idea behind this Facebook group; listen to stuff and maybe you'll like it... and maybe you won't!

John Davidson: I listened to Skunk on the radio and on various compilation albums during the Britpop explosion. While they were media darlings they never quite clicked with me.

Great for dancing to in indie/rock clubs in the 90s but not a band I'd just sit down and listen to.

Listening to this with over 20 years distance hasn't changed that I'm afraid. Musically it has a good groove with plenty of bass and the guitars chug away enjoyably, but i find Skin's voice overwhelming. When it works as on Intellectualise it's great but on other tracks it sounds strained as often as it sounds powerful .

Best tracks: Intellectualise My Blackness, I Can Dream, Little Baby Swastikkka (which is as good an example of funk punk as you'll find.) 100 Ways To Be A Good Girl.

I think part of the problem for me is that tracks like Weak and Charity were overplayed at the time and I found their live performances (of which there were many on TV) to be a bit noisy rather than musical.

But listening to the album a few more times it is better than my early impression suggests even if the music is mostly a backdrop for Skin's vocals.

Overall while it's not my cup of tea it's not bad at all. 6/10.

Iain Macaulay: All killer, no filler. That’s what this album should have been called. This band were everywhere in the 90’s. All my friends liked them. The first track I heard was ‘little baby swastika’ and I thought it was amazing. Then I heard the rest of the album and initially thought … oh. That’s a bit …disappointing. It took a while to take the album for what it was. To accept the diversity and listen to it as a whole album experience and not just as a standard rock band playing loud angry songs. 

There is a lot of subtlety here. Listening to it again afresh, it really shows how tight the band are. The production is so concise and crisp and Skin is truly mesmerising, lyrically, sonically, aesthetically, and politically, both social and sexual. I have to say the album strikes me more now than it did back then. Releasing six singles from it really shows how in tune the band were with the times and how popular they were at the time. Every song could have been a single.

Yes, there are similarities with Rage and Living Colour, but also Senser, a lost, almost made it British 90s band, whose first album is well worth checking out. My wife has all the Skunk Anansie albums and interviewed Skin for a local radio station back in the day, and says she was lovely. Quite a contrast to the persona represented here. I hear tracks often in the background, but I own none of their stuff, which is a bit criminal on my part.

When it comes to the actual songs on the album, I Can Dream is fantastic as is Weak, which is probably the track most people think of when you mention the bands name. In fact, rather than dissect each one I’ll say all the tracks are great. There is not a weak one amongst them all. It’s just a shame the band never became as big as they deserved to be. Makes you wonder why that was.

Shane Reho: This was my first time hearing this, and while I wouldn't say it's a bad album, it didn't really do much for me. There's no song I can think of to single out for any praise, however I will give credit for the musicianship, there is some talent here, even if the music isn't really my cup of tea.

Cameron Gillespie: Hmm, can't say this band did very much for me at all. I think I'll just leave it in the 90s. I'll give credit where credit is due though her voice was brilliant on some of these tracks, and the band had some fairly nice motifs. Lyrically there's some good content I think attitude or punch was missing for me. I reckon if Skin had sung with a bit more of a Beth Hart rasp It would have given these songs a much needed attitude adjustment, and evoked a much more powerful presentation of their songs.

Mike Canoe: Well, I think it's pretty awesome. Listened to it several times this week and on at least my third time through this morning.

While not necessarily similar, I can hear it appealing to fans of Faith No More, Living Colour, RATM, mid-period Chili Peppers; as well as honorary riot grrrl bands like Hole, 7-Year Bitch, and the Gits. 90s alternative rock lifted up by one of the best singers I have ever heard.

Skin has a voice powerful enough to win an Idol competition on either side of the Atlantic while also giving you plenty of lyrics for your brain to chew on. Spotify plays tell me that Weak is the big draw, but Charity and I Can Dream hit that same (bitter)sweet spot. But the fast ones are pretty great too: Selling Jesus, It Takes Blood and Guts..., Little Baby Swastikkka and Intellectualize My Blackness. The fast ones also spotlight the talent and tightness of the rest of the band.

Never heard a note or even knew of the band before this week so, thanks, Classic Rock Magazine. You've done it again.

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Final Score: 6.11/10 (61 votes cast, with a total score of 373)

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