Punk-reggae trailblazers the Slits return with first album in more than 25 years

Plenty of first-generation UK punks tried their hands at reggae, but none did it quite like the Slits.

Led by the inimitable Ari Up, the yelping teenage stepdaughter of Johnny Rotten, the original incarnation of the mostly female group released just two albums, one of which, its 1978 debut, “Cut,” stands as one of the era’s absolute classics.

Whereas contemporaries such as the Clash — with whom the Slits once toured — played reggae with the reverence of pilgrims, re-creating the music’s soulful bass grooves and laconic pacing, the Slits favored a tinny, nervous, agitated sound, one perfectly suited to Up’s anti-everything (girls, boys, consumer culture, radio, etc.) lyrics.

Alongside original bassist Tessa Pollit, Up raised anew the Slits banner in 2005, and having undertaken several tours and released an EP, the group is now back with “Trapped Animal” (Narnack) its long-awaited third album.

Once again, the band focuses on Jamaican music, though this time the bass is beefier and the riddims are less erratic. Positioned midway through the album, the three-song run of “Partner from Hell,” “Babylon” and “Cry Baby” presents the Slits in straight-up roots mode, their one-drop beats anchoring the easy skank of the guitar.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Up’s trademark gall. She opens the album with “Ask Ma” and “Lazy Slam,” dance-floor bangers on which she excoriates women for ruining their sons (and sons for allowing themselves to be ruined) and invites a male companion to have sex with her while she sleeps.

On the latter, Up treats her vocals with Auto Tone, a move reminiscent of the Slits’ ’70s era reggae bastardizations. The band has always been about subverting — lovingly, perhaps — current forms of urban music, and in that sense, their theft of modern R&B feels completely natural.

Elsewhere, Up is less slick, and while her oscillating dolphin-call vocals and sheer brashness of personality can be a little tough to take, “Trapped Animal” is a welcome third installment in a discography that’s criminally brief.

— Kenneth Partridge

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