The Slits were one of the more interesting stories to come out of the great first wave of London punk bands in the late 1970s. Indeed, they are only incidentally 'punk,' in that the teenaged founding members (all female) began their careers as musical incompetents of the "bashed guitar and screamed vocals" school. But by the time Cut, their debut album came out in 1979, the group had moved far beyond the strictures of formal 'punk,' integrating reggae rhythms and dub production into their arsenal. Their second (and last worthwhile) album, 1981's Return of the Giant Slits deepened their commitment to experimentation, adding world-music gestures to their already wide-ranging sound. After these two achievements, the band broke up as its members began to work in other ensembles. They became part of a pantheon of feminist punk bands, alongside little-heard but fondly remembered peers like X-Ray Spex and The Raincoats, but for the next two and a half decades The Slits didn't record another note together.
The closest comparison I can make to the Slits' classic albums is to Public Image Ltd's Metal Box LP, which merged reggae, rock, punk, scratchy and sketchy guitar work, and (let's say) "interesting" vocal performances. If you're not familiar with that record, all I can say is the Slits' music was difficult, catchy, bassy, super-feminist, and creative and and off-putting in equal measure, and they deserve the reputation they have as one of the most pioneering of all the bands to come out of the British punk scene. It's not necessarily anything that every person on the planet needs to have in their collection, but people who are into PiL, Neil Young's noisy and angry side, Lou Reed, or post-punk of the Mission of Burma/Sonic Youth school, really need to get their Slits on.
And now The Slits have re-formed and seem intent on recapturing the old magic. Last year, core members Tessa Pollit (sometimes Pollitte) and Ari Up (sometimes Upp) teamed with ex-Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, Adam and the Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni, and the daughters of Cook and The Clash's Mick Jones to record three songs for a newly released EP, Revenge of the Killer Slits.
I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Revenge is either a nostalgia trip or a bold new offering, or it could be both. I can't tell. The lead track, "Slits Tradition" is a clattering and edgy mess that merges their old blocky punk-reggae sound with 2006 hip-hop beats to decent musical effect. However, the lyrics aren't anything special, featuring Ari Up boasting about the Slits' greatness in a faintly embarrassing dancehall accent. It's a little good, a little not-good, faintly embarrassing, but deeply intriguing.
The second track is more straightforward; an old-school punk workout called "Number One Enemy" that was written in 1976 and belongs completely to that era. From the Sex Pistols-y guitar to the one-note vocals, this is 100% nostalgia trip, albeit a pretty good one.
It's the third of three that's worth the price of admission. "Kill Them With Love" is a dubby and spare drum-and-bass track which puts Up's vocals (which influenced Siouxsie Sioux and Bjork, to name just two) right up front. Although it's not exactly the greatest thing I've ever heard, it does promise good things from a more permanent Slits reunion. It indicates that Up and Pollit still have some of the old magic and possibly some new mojo too, and are not just adults who mistakenly think that they are still "hip" and "with it." If nothing else, the fact that they are trying as adults to revist what they did so very well as teenagers suggests they haven't lost the boldness that made them great.
There's a lot left unsaid by this three-song EP. The original Slits were stunning partly because they were so consciously political, so consciously feminist, and so musically fearless. The risks they took and the rules they broke paid off in spades in 1979, and whether that's because they were too young to know better or too young to care is beside the point. But the Slits are now in their forties, and it's too early to tell whether that crazy-ass energy that made their original work so thrilling and creative has dried up, or merely matured into something new and thrilling.