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Having It Both Ways
(Cooking Vinyl)

TO UNDERSTAND "Having It Both Ways" you have to know your musical history. Way back in 1978, Tom Robinson released an album called Power In The Darkness. An authentic expression of the zeitgeist of the late Seventies, it articulated the nature of the erosion of civil liberties, the proliferation of racism, the rise in unemployment and social unrest which came to the fore under the oppressive aegis of a deeply unsympathetic Margaret Thatcher-led Tory government. Famously, too, Tom Robinson was homosexual and a vociferous champion of gay rights. Power In The Darkness, an awesome document of its times, was rightly considered a classic.

To some extent, the rest of Robinsons career was eclipsed by that explosive debut. As Thatcherism started to win all the battles and oppositional forces disappeared from view, Robinson briefly hit the spotlights again when the immaculate War Baby went to number one in the singles charts in Britain, but the FM sound of the album it came from alienated many of his fans. Robinson, it seemed, was doomed to occupy that marginal ground between jazzy stubbornness and sensible AOR.

Unbelievably, however, almost two decades on, Tom Robinson has come up with the goods again. For, make no mistake, Having It Both Ways is the true successor to Power In The Darkness, as relevant to now as that debut album was to then.

To begin with, the old anger is back and it has a sharp renewed focus and drive. There's not a weak track in sight: all are as good as anything Tom Robinson has ever composed before. There's the personal politics of the reggae-like "Disrespect", that gets to the core of the loss of self-belief in all communities that have been ravished of hope and opportunity. Or the achingly sad "The One", that could be about any lonely person you've ever set eyes on whose life has passed them by.


Don't kid yourself that you're immune
The 21st century will be here soon
Fucked in a gutter, howling at the moon
And begging on the cold cold ground.

Having It Both Ways shimmers with intelligence and commitment. It is a superior work by an exceptional songwriter, one of those rare records that astonishes from the very first listen. If Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen released an album like this, you'd have been informed it was a solid gold masterpiece. But Tom Robinson has always had either no image at all, or one that was too ambiguous to ever court world-conquering appeal. But I guarantee you'll have to go a long way to hear a more vital record this or any other year.


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