Album Review: Swingin’ Utters – “Stuck in a Circle”

The last few years have been good for Swingin’ Utters fans who wanted new music from the long-running San Francisco act. The band ended their seven year hiatus in 2010 and only a year later they released Here, Under Protest.  And only two years later they gave us Poorly Formed. To keep up the momentum of celebrating their second album since returning, the band has released their newest single, Stuck in a Circle, containing the title track, a No Use for a Name cover, and an unreleased b-side.

As one might expect from a single, “Stuck in a Circle” is exactly the same as the album version found on Poorly Formed. If you’ve already listened to the album, then you know how it goes. If you haven’t gotten around to the album yet, “Stuck in a Circle” is fairly representative of the sounds that the Utters have been tinkering with since their reunion. The production is clean here, and the mid-tempo verses are entwined with slightly faster chorus, with lyrics that explore the circular nature of life. It’s not as fast or urgent as the album’s first single, “The Librarians Are Hiding Something”, but “Stuck in a Circle” highlights the band’s experimentation on Poorly Formed and it makes sense that the Utters would want to release something a little different as a single.

The first b-side here is the band’s cover of No Use for a Name’s “Not Your Savior”, which appeared on the recent Songs of Tony Sly tribute. The Utters utilize a string arrangement to replace the original’s guitar leads, creating a chillingly beautiful take on an already beautifully written song. The added lyric “you’ll believe it when they lie / why do the good ones have to die” at the end only helps to amplify the already somber atmosphere surrounding the circumstances that led to this cover being recorded in the first place.

“Chain Gang Reaction(ary)”, the single’s other b-side, is exclusive to this release. Like the title track, “Chain Gang Reaction(ary)” is a bit different from the band’s usual style, with driving guitar that keeps the song moving at a consistent pace pretty much its entire playtime. A whole album of this kind of thing might wear thin quickly, but it works well as just a single song. The experimentation in songwriting fits the overall theme of trying new things on Poorly Formed, and the only reason I can think of why the track was relegated to b-side status was simply because it didn’t fit the flow created by the rest of the songs that did make it onto the album.

Despite all three songs being good songs, it’s hard to really think of Stuck in a Circle as an essential release… if only because two of its three songs are readily available elsewhere. This single is really only for either die-hard Swingin’ Utters fans, or those who have yet to give Poorly Formed a listen and just want a short sampler before diving in. For everyone else, “Chain Gang Reaction(ary)” is definitely a song worth checking out, but it might be worth your money to buy the song individually and then pick up both Poorly Formed and The Songs of Tony Sly in full, assuming you haven’t already.

3 / 5

RIYL: No Use for a Name, Lagwagon, NOFX, any band that shares members with the Utters (Filthy Thievin’ Bastards, Druglords of the Avenue, One Man Army, etc).

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