Trapped Animal is like a character in one of those body-snatching films. The aliens take someone close to the protagonist – let’s say her mom – and the alien that replaces her is mostly-mom. But certain mannerisms are wrong. A movement here and there isn’t quite right. Her gait is off. The way she looks at the protagonist is askew. A human isn’t merely a body, but the push and pull of the biological, the social and the psychological, and identical bodies may be animated by wholly different means creating a vague feeling of unease in those that encounter these bodies.
The Slits’ last real album, Return of the Giant Slits, was released in 1981, and soon after the group broke up. However, four years ago, some of the original members, Ari Up and Tessa Pollitt, reformed the group and started recording again. This is, of course, endemic to the late aughts. Between the ease of sharing introduced by the internet and the cultural postmodernism of the hip set, many bands have found a new popularity. Old enmities and creative lethargy have fallen away with the promise of revived careers. It’s not easy to reduce these reformations to cynical attempts to cash in, as bandmates have numerous reasons for getting back together. Still, a lot of these reunions feel less about inspiration and are more about the cultural moment being right for their aesthetic. Feeling like they’ve caught up to the zeitgeist though is inorganic, and that feeling especially wafts off of Trapped Animal.
For all anyone knows, Pollitt and Up got together not because their musical style was coming back into vogue (see the surfeit of dubby, female-fronted indie rock in the last few years), but because they felt a creative need to work with each other again. This may be true, but it doesn’t feel like the case. The album, more than anything, has this calculated veneer to it, a sheen that covers over the music. It seems borne more out of logical considerations than organic ones. It doesn’t mean the music is necessarily bad, but rather that it’s animated more out of a lifelessness than anything else. It’s undead music.
This is why giving Trapped Animal an honest appraisal is fraught with caveats and misgivings. There’s technically nothing wrong with it, but it just doesn’t feel right. It’s not a non sequitur that all the metaphors I reached for were of aliens and zombies; these are creatures we humans have created to give narrative voice to our fears about the uniqueness of our own existence, and the Slits have come back not quite right, not as interesting as they once were. Off somehow.