Got a bit of a funny thing going on with Understand, in that it’s hard for me to be entirely objective given the formative role they played in my punk rock upbringing. As a kid cutting his teeth on bands like Quicksand, Jawbox and Fugazi they provided an entry point that didn’t require me to hoof it up to London on a paperboy’s salary and helped me realise there was more going on than appeared in the pages of Kerrang! (though they appeared in there quite a bit, too).
I’ll still happily vouch for the album they released as a going concern – 1994’s major label flub ‘Burning Bushes And Burning Bridges’ – and was happy as a sandboy when Thirty Something released it on vinyl a couple of years back. At the same time, though, I’m infinitely aware of its flaws, the debts it owes and how they were at a sonic and ideological remove from much of the UK’s hardcore scene at the time.
‘Real Food At Last’ was recorded after the band parted ways with East West Records, and was parked when the band fizzled out. Two tracks appeared on a split CDEP with pre-Hundred Reasons act Jetpak but the album ‘proper’ never found a proper home, instead circulating here and there online in unmixed, protean form.
As with many of us, the band found themselves rummaging around in the past during the pandemic. While some acts dug through flyer and photo archives and others, like Southend kinsfolk Above All, reconvened, Understand took the time to convert and polish the material they’d shelved some 20+ years ago.
What perhaps surprised me most on hearing the album was how fresh and alive it sounds. There’s an urgency here that certainly doesn’t sound like a band on the brink of collapse, and while it’s clearly the same act who recorded ‘Burning Bushes…’ you also get the sense that they were growing more comfortable in their own skin, defining a more individual sound that crept beyond the shadow of Helmet, Quicksand and Shift.
The melodies seem more confident and the riffs retain a hard-hitting punchiness, but there’s also a sense that the band were prodding at post-hardcore’s edges. There’s more variety to the vocals and, perhaps most noticeably, a freeness to the guitar playing – frequent unexpected squawks, stutters and dissonant jags – that perhaps speak to the interests of sadly-departed guitarist John Hannon and the terrain he’d go on to explore with Woe and Liberez.
As I said from the outset, it’s hard to be entirely objective, but I don’t think my enjoyment is rooted in nostalgia. ‘Real Food At Last’ feels like a great, necessary collection of songs from a band that didn’t necessarily realise they were going out swinging, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it if your tastes tend toward 90s types like Handsome and Into Another or the modern likes of Mil-Spec, Initiate and Truth Cult who are taking that era’s sounds and running with them.