There was a time in my late teens when Levellers were a genuinely important band to me. They were a genuinely rocking folk band with a good ear for melody, a memorable riff and, in Mark Chadwick, a reasonable vocalist.
1991’s Levelling The Land is by far and away the best Levellers album. It was here that they managed to blend anthemic tunes with grimy folk production and an energy that they would struggle to capture on later albums. There’s no denying the quality of songs like the career-defining “One Way” and the angry “Sell Out”, and that Levellers knew their way around a good tune, but listening back to it now I find parts of it vaguely grating, in the same way that I find a lot of protest-folk vaguely grating, it’s accusational finger-pointing is narrow-minded and often self-serving. It’s alright telling people not to trust any form of authority, but are they suggesting an alternative? No, they’re just looking after their own concerns, trying to convince everyone that they alone have all the answers, and childishly sniping at anyone that has an opposing point of view. I blame Ewan MacColl.
If you can get past the unpleasant finger-pointing, there’s actually vast amounts of fun to be had here. “Far From Home” is an excellent celtic folk song, “Liberty Song” rocks like an inebriated weeble in a rocking chair and “The Riverflow” is a brilliantly celebratory tune before it all goes Riverdance midway through.
Sometimes a band’s political opinions flavours their music so much that even if you have similar views, you find repeated listens to an album to be exhausting. Luckily for The Levellers, on Levelling The Land their tune count is high and we can accept them as a bunch of stoned loafers who can write a good rock song and hate any kind of authority. After this though their output needs to be approached with a touch more caution, but at this point in their career, the positives did outweigh the negatives and they proved themselves to be one of the most vital and energetic bands of the early 90s.