Themes From Great Cities

It might have come to your attention that I'm not a regular poster of love and understanding, which you will just have to get used to. I will however, have bursts of creativity where I move completely randomly from post to post with no rhyme or reason.

Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs on the interweb and I’m just sharing the wealth.

Should you have any Questions, Comments, Ideas, Re-up Requests or just general straight forward Requests post them in the relevant comments boxes and I’ll get back to you.

Saturday

Nothing Wrong


On Nothing Wrong, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry glides through track after numbing track of quasi-industrial post-punk, once again smacking heartily of Joy Division. The relentless guitar and vocal drones create a claustrophobic feel, and Chris Reed's constant mumbling is among the most incoherent in all of rock. There's an especially shoddy feel on lesser tracks like "World Around" and the surprisingly dull title track. These many drawbacks completely overshadow stronger songs like the reckless "She Said" and "Only Dreaming (Wide Awake)," with its spacious arrangement and almost intelligible melody. In the end, many of the disc's facets that could be considered pop/rock hindrances are admired by fans of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. In fact, Nothing Wrong is a bit of a fan favourite. From the casual listener's perspective, however, this 1988 release probably won't contend with the Cure, Joy Division, or many other notable post-punk/goth artists of the '80s.

Friday

The Age Of Plastic


The fun, quirky single "Video Killed the Radio Star" garnered The Buggles international attention in 1980, but it was just one of The Age of Plastic's fascinating, futuristic visions. From the title track's opening strains, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes transform your living room into a world of Jetson-like proportions. It's a world, though, where technology is seen for what it is -- full of both promise and frightening implications. On "I Love You Miss Robot," a metaphorical love affair with a robot explores modern man's relationship to, and dependence on, technology. "Kid Dynamo"'s spirited tempo, biting lyrics, and menacing vocal track questions the loss of imagination plaguing the mass media age. For the most part, The Age of Plastic is a fun record that doesn't need to be taken too seriously, though a subtle sense of loss is woven throughout. Variety is the constant and tracks vary from the giddy "Video," to the dark and pulsating "Johnny on the Monorail.." The vision here is so beautifully articulated that the superb musicianship and production wizardry is easily overlooked. Paradoxically, Horn and Downes employed electronic devices (which were considered new and cutting edge in the late seventies) to create an album which, at times, spoke eloquently about their drawbacks. With The Age of Plastic, Horn and Downes stamped an indelible image in the collective pop psyche. What is equally impressive is the sound of this disc given its analogue origins and 1980-release date. While hiss can be heard in some of the quieter passages, it would be difficult to find a record from this era that sounds half as good. Pop rarely reaches these heights.

Chat And Business Today


Ikara Colt follows the punk rock fleet of 2002 (the Liars, Interpol) and spits on rock mainstream in the process. Chat and Business, their first for Epitaph, functions with a minimalist approach; threads of early Sonic Youth ("One Note") and Joy Division ("At the Lodge") echo throughout as Ikara Colt keeps a near-bulletproof guitar jam. Frontman Paul Resende is a vocal curmudgeon with style, and assuredly he comes off fresh. The formulaic three-chord riff that blazes through "Rudd" and "Pop Group," and the electric jolt of "Sink Venice" highlights a nervy, raw rhythm section at the top of their game. Guitarist Claire Ingram is queenly in her role of guiding Ikara Colt's synth-driven sonic power. Claire and Paul emphasize the band's uncompromising disposition, and the heavy twitch and snarl of "Here We Go Again" is distinct in saying so. Chat and Business isn't just a punk record. What is punk anyway? The mixture is a bit thick nowadays. Ikara Colt creates an edgy, electronic/punk-inspired sound with Chat and Business, and the end result is impressively slick.

Ikara Colt existed because 99.9% of everything else at that time was shit and getting shitter.

We are at the absolute other end of the spectrum from Stereophonics here. Both ‘Pop Group’ and the killer first single 'Sink Venice' are based on the Colt‘s oft-expressed and entirely admirable opinion that, after five years, all bands should be taken out and shot before they get the chance to get fat, old, smug, contented or soft-handed. No compromises made to the lucrative possibilities of dance remixes or daytime radio play – all you get is relentless minimalism (‘One Note’), paranoia (‘At The Lodge’), inverse snobbery (‘Belgravia’) and a spitting hatred of pop mediocrity (‘Video Clip Show’). Put it this way – if you don’t loathe the likes of Starsailor and Travis with every fibre of your being then there’s absolutely no fucking chance whatsobleedingever that you’ll like Ikara Colt. They’re a sort of twat-filter. And this, by the very fact of its existence, is brilliant. 
[Steven Wells, NME Sept 12th 2005]


Thursday

Streets


A handy compilation perfectly encapsulating the spirit of punk; it really didn't matter if you had no more than one song in you (and barely that), the important thing was to have a go, heedless of such hopelessly misguided middle class notions as taste and sensitivity. This was a snapshot of Beggars Banquet before Gary Numan turned them into a major proposition. The only remotely household names here are The Lurkers, John Cooper Clarke and The Members, who managed one top 30 hit between them. Each of their tracks included here is hard to find and really good. Even the less engaging moments here are carried through by their sheer energy and determination. Classic punk themes abound, not least an internal discussion about music itself and the genre's hostility to virtuosity (The Nosebleeds' "Ain't Bin to No Music School" and Tractor's "No More Rock n' Roll"). Almost inevitably the track here that really carries the day is "Innocents" by John Cooper Clarke, one of few here who built himself some kind of career with this stuff. But the most interesting inclusion is 'Talk Talk Talk Talk' by The Reaction. This was Mark Hollis' first band before he formed Talk Talk, and this track is a rough n ready version of their signature tune.

A great 'lost' compilation with some brilliant, if obscure inclusions.


Wednesday

Grin And Bear It


The second album by the Ruts, was hastily cobbled together in the wake of frontman Malcolm Owen's death, a ragbag of material that reached from their "In A Rut" debut single through to an alternate mix of their "West One" swan song (via their final John Peel session) and three live tracks. It was a shambolic offering -- the Ruts deserved far more. However, Grin and Bear It lines up alongside their debut album, the rest of the Peel sessions, and assorted live recordings to remind listeners that, though the Ruts never came close to fulfilling their promise, the promise itself was spellbinding.

Into The Valley (Again)

Forming in Dunfermline in 1977 when locals Stuart Adamson and Willie Simpson were enthused by the burgeoning Punk scene, they added Tom Kellichan on drums before chancing on the Kirkcaldy born Richard Jobson, who completed the initial Skids line up on vocals. Within six months of their formation they put out the Charles EP on the local No Bad label. This record created a buzz about the band and shortly after its release the Skids were signed up by major label Virgin Records, who were concentrating a large part of their operation at the time on New Wave/Punk outfits.
Their first two singles with the big boys, Sweet Suburbia and The Saints Are Coming, nudged them into the lower end of the UK charts. But the arrival in early 1979 of the third 7″ Into The Valley and their first album Scared To Dance put them right at the business end so to speak, Valley reaching the Top Ten and the LP nestling comfortably at number 19 in the album charts.
In many ways the Skids were the perfect band for the Post-Punk Winter of Discontent of 78/79 – influenced by the original Punk burst of creativity in 1976, but now forged into something different (despite later on in 1979 Adamson protesting that they were still a Punk band in the music press), more thoughtful but with big catchy choruses and that one of a kind guitar sound. Jobson’s lyrics were different from what people saw as the “usual Punk concerns” – he wrote a lot about the pointlessness of war and emotional trauma with his words and Adamson’s mighty guitar giving a clear sense of location to where they came from – both literally and figuratively.
The Skids debut album is still an enjoyable and invigorating record to listen to all these years after the fact. Scared To Dance hangs together like a “proper album”, not just a collection of songs, with a genuine ebb and flow; like a work of art really and the extracted singles don’t feel like add-ons at all. This showed once and for all they weren’t a one-trick pony. Dramatic singing, mid-paced slashing guitars sweeping in and out, with a confidence in knowing that what they were doing is unique and important.

Understated Scaring (Re-upped)

If there was one word to describe Lush, it would be understated. Hardcore shoegazers are most of who are aware of their significance to the genre's development through the late 1980's and early 1990's. But while starting a genre is quite an accomplishment, the band that popularized and mastered it is usually the one that takes all the glory (three guesses who). But while shoegazing would blossom into being mainly comprised of dense soundscapes and psychedelic effects, Scar shows how minimalistic song writing and simplicity can accomplish the same goal. Scar's biggest strength lies in its ability to convey atmosphere and mood with a minimum of production flourishes or instrumental finesse. Simple guitar riffs and uptempo drumming throw the seasoned listener off with a very different sound altogether. "Baby Talk" beings with an upbeat bass intro before the rest of the band comes in and vocalist Emma Anderson repeats the lines "Swallowed her down, she's inside me. She's struggling now, she can't break free. And my eyes are closed, my lips are sealed. She can't escape but I can feel." Morbid lyrics like these add to the eeriness of the hypnotic guitar riffs. The album highlight "Scarlet" makes use of some dissonant riffs over angelic vocals and repetitive drumming to create a unique and eerie atmosphere far more sinister than most of Lush's genre contemporaries with a roaring crescendo closing it out.

Meshing dreamy, feedback-drenched guitars with airy, catchy melodies, Lush were one of the most prominent shoegazing bands of the early '90s. Led by guitarists Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, the British band earned a cult following within the British and American undergrounds with its first EPs, yet the group never quite attained the critical respect given to its peers My Bloody Valentine and Ride. Even so, Lush lasted longer than any other of their contemporaries (with the exception of the Boo Radleys), developing sharp pop skills as their career progressed. By the time of their final album, 1996's Lovelife, they had converted themselves into a power pop band with dream pop overtones, which resulted in the greatest chart success of their career. Their success was dealt a blow when drummer Chris Acland committed suicide in the fall of 1996, effectively bringing the band to an end.
Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson, Chris Acland, Steve Rippon (bass), and Meriel Barham (guitar) formed Lush in 1988 in London, England. Prior to the group's formation, school friends Berenyi and Anderson had collaborated on a fanzine together, as well as played in a number of other bands individually. Anderson, who had been working as a DHSS clerical assistant, had played bass with the Rover Girls, while Berenyi had been a member of I-Goat, Fuhrer Five, and the Lillies. Berenyi's then-boyfriend, Acland had previous played with several other groups as well, including Panik, Infection, and A Touch of Hysteria. Barham left Lush soon after the band's formation to form the Pale Saints, and the remaining members began playing around London, quickly earning a number of fans, including Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. Guthrie helped the band secure a contract with 4AD Records, and they released their acclaimed debut EP, Scar, in 1989. Lush supported the EP with opening tours for Loop and the Darling Buds, and by 1990, they had graduated to headlining tours of their own.
Throughout 1990, the band's reputation in the British music press began to grow as they released the acclaimed EPs Mad Love and Sweetness and Light, played high-profile gigs like the Glastonbury Festival, and became favourites of the music weeklies' gossip columns. Gala, an album compiling their three EPs, became the band's first American release at the end of 1990. Lush spent most of 1991 recording their debut album, releasing the Black Spring EP in the spring. Rippon left the band during the sessions, and was replaced by Philip King, a former picture researcher for NME and a previous member of Felt, Servants, and Biff Bang Pow. Lush finally released their delayed debut album, Spooky, in the spring of 1992. While the album sold well, reaching the British Top Ten and topping the U.K. indie charts, it was criticized in the press for Guthrie's heavy-handed production. The band supported the album in America by appearing on the second Lollapalooza tour, but their dream pop wasn't well-received by an audience hungry for metal. Lush released their second album, Split, in the summer of 1994 to mixed reviews. Split was lost in the twin waves of Brit-pop and American post-grunge, even though the band's song writing was more pop-oriented than ever.
After regrouping during 1995, Lush returned in early 1996 with Lovelife, an album that showcased a debt to the pop-single ideals of Brit-pop. The musical changeover paid off as "Single Girl" and "Ladykiller" became their two biggest hit singles, and the album became a British Top 20 hit; in America, it was their highest-charting album, even if it just scraped the charts at 189. Lush had completed their supporting tours and summer festival appearances when Chris Acland unexpectedly hanged himself in his parent's house on October 17, 1996. Devastated by his death, the remaining members of Lush went into a long period of mourning, eventually disbanding. 

Monday

Chairs Missing


Chairs Missing marks a partial retreat from Pink Flag's austere, bare-bones minimalism, although it still takes concentrated listening to dig out some of the melodies. Producer Mike Thorne's synth adds a Brian Eno-esque layer of atmospherics, and Wire itself seems more concerned with the sonic textures it can coax from its instruments; the tempos are slower, the arrangements employ more detail and sound effects, and the band allows itself to stretch out on a few songs. The results are a bit variable -- "Mercy," in particular, meanders for too long -- but compelling much more often than not. The album's clear high point is the statement of purpose "I Am the Fly," which employs an emphasis-shifting melody and guitar sounds that actually evoke the sound of the title insect. But that's not all by any means -- "Outdoor Miner" and "Used To" have a gentle lilt, while "Sand in My Joints" is a brief anthem worthy of Pink Flag, and the four-minute "Practice Makes Perfect" is the best result of the album's incorporation of odd electronic flavours. In general, the lyrics are darker than those on Pink Flag, even morbid at times; images of cold, drowning, pain, and suicide haunt the record, and the title itself is a reference to mental instability. The arty darkness of Chairs Missing, combined with the often icy-sounding synth/guitar arrangements, helps make the record a crucial landmark in the evolution of punk into post-punk and Goth, as well as a testament to Wire's rapid development and inventiveness.

Sunday

Final Day (Re-upped)


In 1980, a fresh-faced Welsh three-piece named ‘Young Marble Giants’ released their debut LP, ‘Colossal Youth’. It was to be their only full-length album, a minimalistic and Spartan thing that defied the noise and the vitriol of the emerging post-punk movement. It has earned since its release three reissues, endorsements from the influential Kurt Cobain and indie legends ‘Belle and Sebastian’ and ‘Galaxie 500’. Yet somehow it remains obscure even to music obsessives, a bona fide cult classic whose unassuming nature has perhaps ensured that it stays under the radar. Perhaps it was a little unassuming for its own good; eschewing organic drums for a drum machine and paring post-punk back to its very essence was perhaps not a prudent move in an underground music economy where bands such as ‘Wire’, ‘Talking Heads’ and ‘The Clash’ held thrall. The artistic merits of the album, however, are indisputable- it is a very rare album that sounds like little else released before or since, and an even rarer one that sounds quite as wonderful as this does.


If there is one adjective that springs to mind immediately when listening to Colossal Youth, it is endearing: lead singer Alison Stattons unpolished lilt, the delightfully off-kilter drum machine, the prominent bass, the explorations of negative space and quiet guitar melodies; all these conflated ensure charm. The drum machine especially ensures an introspective and low-key atmosphere; would-be garage rock anthems ‘Include me out’ and ‘Brand New Life’ are tempered and pared down into punk conceptions at their most minimal. Elsewhere, the rollicking opener ‘Searching for Mister Right’ casts a spell from the get-go, all propulsive rhythm and ethereal vocals. ‘Salad Days’ is a gorgeous wistful ballad, conjuring images of sunshine and laughter long since passed. Singling out specific tracks seems redundant however; this is an album that begs to be listened to as a whole, enthralling and addictive as it is. That said, the sparse arrangement of the album does begin to grate after a while. Moreover, though it may seem unusual to cite the albums consistency as a flaw, the lack of stand-out tracks and the similarity of the pervading atmosphere of each song does mean that the album can become stale after repeated listens.
I alluded earlier that ‘Colossal Youth’ is a post-punk album, but that is not strictly true. Though it gets classified as such, pigeon-holing the album into that genre does a disservice to the originality at work here. It resemblance to post-punk is tenuous, and I believe it is only called such because at the time there would have been nothing else to call it. It bears more in common with the indie genre of today. Glimmers of it are found in the XX’s self-titled, in the gentle sonic explorations of Beach House, but no-one has made an album quite like this. It stands alone, humbly, entreating the listener not with noise or with gimmickry but with earnestness and a quaint, unsentimental beauty. I can only recommend you let it coax you in. Lose yourself in the beguile and sprawl; this one is a hidden treasure worth searching for.


Saturday

Beyondless


The fourth album by Danish punk upstarts Iceage is a study in sonic evolution, from the abrasive chaos of their debut to their more thoughtful 2018 incarnation. Their progression has been impressive, hopefully staving off the divisive nature that comes with changing direction; sharp turns are likely to perturb subsections of fans, but here the rudder was adjusted early enough that long-time admirers might have seen it coming since album two. Over time, space that has been carved out of the song writing has given way to the overall density of the lyrical content, meaning that while the delivery might not be as urgent on Beyondless, it lands with a new degree of clarity. Nevertheless, the album opens with all guns blazing, as "Hurrah" rattles off on people's insatiable, sometimes celebratory, relationship with violence, and does so in a sardonic explosion of gratuity. Leading straight into "Painkiller," the most prominent example of who Iceage are here; it's catchy, it's bombastic, and once it has its hooks in it won't let go, although all of this is still underpinned by Rønnenfelt's signature drawl. The rest of the record plays out with an abundance of dramatic flair -- even if the pacing gradually reduces toward the back half -- riddling the run time with the slow angst of "Catch It," the uneasy cabaret of "Showtime," or the call-and-response-baiting closer "Beyondless." It would be easy to lament the raw energy of previous Iceage records, but if they had continued in that vein they would have risked obscurity by now; instead, they're a band who refuse to stop moving and exploring their sound, emerging every time with a more refined approach to the music. That they can achieve this with integrity should be celebrated, except maybe this time with a bottle of red wine instead of cheap beer.
Liam Martin

Friday

A Swirl Of Psychedelic Rock (Of Skins And Hearts)

On their debut, Of Skins and Heart, The Church play straightforward pop/rock firmly rooted in new wave, though owing no small debt to '60s pop. Edgier and more direct than their later work, it also ranks among their finest for that very reason. None of the excesses and ambitions that would sometimes get out of hand on later releases are present, though much of the band's basic formula was laid down; Steve Kilbey's cool, detached vocals and slightly surrealistic lyrics combined with some outstanding pop hooks, nice harmonies, and layers of ringing guitar. The classic "Unguarded Moment" (arguably one of the greatest singles of the '80s) overshadows much of the material on the album, but there is really no shortage of great songs here.
While the group never truly gained the popular acclaim many thought was due, The Church have still managed to carve out a consistently interesting career for themselves, moving from underground sensation to (briefly) popular mainstream act to legendary veterans, all while never resting on their laurels. A reassessment of the Australian quartet’s early LP’s is especially useful considering how well it displays the band finding their way toward their signature sound, a swirl of psychedelic rock that contains familiar elements but that sounds like no one but The Church.
Fans who entered The Church following the international success of their fifth album Starfish and its career-defining hit single “Under the Milky Way” might be surprised by the forthright sound of the band’s debut album Of Skins and Heart. The gauzy psychedelia for which the group would become known appears only in hints and glimmers here. Instead the band (bassist/ singer/ songwriter Steve Kilbey, guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper, and drummer Nick Ward) boasts a rocking sound that’s more in line with the rising tide of 80’s new wave. It sounds like a young band with talent to burn, eager to get its ideas down on vinyl as quickly and energetically as possible.
The snarling post-punk “Fighter Pilot…Korean War,” the straightforward ballad “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers” and the bombastic “Memories in Future Tense” sound very different from the band with which most people would become familiar – the guitars are much more muscular and less pretty. Steve Kilbey had not yet found his style as a vocalist, pushing his natural croon into an urgent yelp influenced by his 70s glam rock heroes. It mostly fits but he occasionally sounds like he’s straining beyond his comfort zone. Sprightly pop rockers like “She Never Said,” “For a Moment We’re Strangers,” “Chrome Injury” (which is marred by a dated electronic percussion thwack) and the Australian hit “The Unguarded Moment” show some of the group’s hallmarks – the uncommon chemistry between Koppes and Willson-Piper’s axes, Kilbey’s enigmatic lyrics – but also have a stripped down, propulsive power folks rarely associate with the band now. The leisurely epic “Is This Where You Live” and the jangling “Bel-Air” give hints of what was to come, but overall Of Skins and Heart sounds like the work of a different band than The Church we all know – though quite a good band, to be sure.

Kilimanjaro

Armed with trumpeters Ray Martinez and Hurricane Smith who add soaring flourishes and energetic blasts throughout Kilimanjaro, the Teardrops explode in a torrent of creative, kicky and often downright fun songs that hotwire garage/psych inspirations into something more. Julian Cope is already a commanding singer and front man; his clever lyrics and strong projection result in a series of confident performances, whether he is trading lines with himself on the motorbike chug of "Sleeping Gas" or his yelps on "Books." For all the bad energy between himself and David Balfe, the two sound like they're grafted at the hip throughout; the latter's keyboard washes and staccato melodies adding the fun, nervy vibe. Gary Dwyer's spot-on drumming keeps the pace, while both guitarists, Mick Finkler and his replacement Alan Gill, don't drown the band in feedback to the exclusion of everything else. One listen too many of Gill's pieces, on songs like "Poppies," and Cope's oft-stated claim that early U2 was trying to rip off the Teardrops and other Liverpool/Manchester groups makes sense. Though it was assembled from a variety of different sessions Kilimanjaro still sounds cohesive. Perfectly hummable choruses, great arrangements and production and Cope's smiling vibe all add up with fantastic results. 


The 30th anniversary reissue of the Teardrop Explodes' Kilimanjaro recently spurred one heritage-rock magazine to ask the band's former front man Julian Cope if he would ever return to writing pop music. It seems a fair enough query given Kilimanjaro's success: it spawned a top 10 hit in Reward, spent 35 weeks on the charts and displayed such commercial promise that both U2 and Duran Duran apparently considered the Teardrop Explodes their only real competition. Cope told the magazine, he'd just written a pop song, inspired by the mid-60s baroque style of the Left Banke, a band not so wildly removed from the kind of influences that powered Kilimanjaro – the blasting brass arrangements of Forever Changes-era Love, the Seeds' reedy garage rock, the sunshine pop of the Turtles. "It's called," he added, "The Cunts Can Fuck Off."
It's hard to reconcile the Julian Cope of today with the 22-year-old you hear on this 3CD deluxe reissue of the first album he made. There's something very  fresh-faced about the music on Kilimanjaro, which replaced the murky, shaky, spindly sound of the Teardrops' early indie singles – collected on CD2 – with a sound that tapped into 60s psych's sunny optimism, rather than its creeping disquiet. Equally, though, there's something rather gimlet-eyed about it. Indeed, the Teardrop Explodes had a weird tendency to combine the wide eyes and the will to power in the same song. "Bless my cotton socks, I'm in the news!" opened Reward, while the faux-naif title and jaunty tune of Brave Boys Keep Their Promises cloaks a load of surprisingly Duncan Bannatyneish stuff about fighting your way to the top.
Five of Kilimanjaro’s 11 songs were released as singles in one form or another, and listening to Treason or Bouncing Babies, you can see why Duran Duran got the fear. The tunes are uniformly fantastic (fantastic enough to overwhelm the production, even when it tends to early-80s chart-bothering smoothness), the words intriguing: long before he actually did create his own unique universe of megaliths, Odinism and krautrock, Cope was cramming his lyrics with enough off-kilter references to suggest he already had. And the sense of swaggering confidence never abates. It sounds like that most beguiling of things: a band at the top of their game. It sounds like a band that could have had it all. As it turned out, that was the last thing their front man wanted.

Thursday

1977 Revisited


Save for 1980's incomplete 10" vinyl Epic Nu-Disk compilation Black Market Clash, 1977 Revisited was the first cost-efficient way for North American Clash fans to get their hands on the band's B-sides. With liner notes by veteran rock scribe Ira Robbins, this 1990 compilation -- coming six years after the demise of the only band that mattered -- gave amazing tunes like the Dylan-derived "Groovy Times" and the Mick Jones-sung anthem "Gates of the West" stateside availability. Aside from those non-LP tracks (culled from 1979's The Cost of Living EP), the sugary pop blast of "1-2 Crush on You" showed an early, accessible side of the group. Some of this material was repeated on the 1991 box set The Clash on Broadway, and the ten-song disc was ultimately deleted in favour of 1994's expanded Super Black Market Clash. This short-lived collection on the Relativity label is a concise, near-perfect assortment of the only flip sides that mattered.

Wednesday

The Crack


It was headline news in 1977 but, two years later, punk was on life support. Sex Pistols had long since expired; The Clash were intent on cracking America; British kids were being seduced by new, street-level movements such as 2-Tone and the Mod revival. Yet in June 1979, West London quartet The Ruts gave punk some much-needed CPR when their classic second single, ‘Babylon’s Burning’ – an urgent, driving (and still frighteningly prescient) anthem attacking racist-related violence – steamed into the UK Top 10, giving a taster of what would come from its parent album, The Crack. 

Tuesday

The Crack/Grin And Bear It (Again)

Early punk's greatest glory, and greatest flaw, was that most of the bands were signed before they'd reached true musical proficiency. No wonder they sounded so unique, they weren't capable of imitating their influences yet. Not so with the Ruts, who were able to deliver a powerful musical punch with their debut album, something virtually unique among old-school British punk bands. Easily able to recreate not just first-wave punk styling’s, but classic rock as well, the Ruts' influences ran the gamut of genres from Motörhead to Marley, the New York Dolls to the Banshees. Thus, The Crack was one blindingly original album, far removed from its contemporaries. At the core, the quartet's sound was based primarily on '70s rock, played fast and hard, bringing them into the sphere of the street punks, an evolving genre later tagged Oi!, and eventually mutating into both speed metal and hardcore. The album features a clutch of head banging pogo-til-you-puke blasts of fury, anthemic shout-alongs one and all. But the Ruts were capable of much more than simplistic punk-rockers in a metal mode. Some songs feature a wondrous gothic drone; "It Was Cold" was indebted to both Magazine and the Police, while other tracks give nods to pub rock and R&B. Out of this mass of sounds and styles, the Ruts hammered out intriguing hybrids, darkly shadowed, but occasionally emerging into the pop light. "Dope for Guns," for example, weds a hard rock verse to an anthemic poppy chorus, then ties the knot with a reggae riff, while "Is It Something That I Said" pushes toward Buzzcocks territory. The seminal "Jah War," inspired by the Southall riots, is simmering roots reggae/dub, but seared by classic rock guitar leads, totally redefining the rockers genre. The group was, if anything, even stronger lyrically. "Babylon's Burning" turns a powerful punk-rocker into an epic, with singer Malcolm Owen capturing the anger, frustration, and horror of anyone caught up in a riot. On "Jah War," he deliberately cools his passions, giving the words more nuanced power than if he allowed his anger to break free. On the sinister "S.U.S.," a response to England's infamous stop and search law, the group combines to create an ominous atmosphere of paranoia, a sound more chilling than that of any modern black metal band.


Can it really be thirty nine years since Ruts frontman Malcolm Owen died?

In 1980, just weeks after Ian Curtis’s suicide, another key frontman was dead. And while Curtis has become iconic, Owen and his band (who were already influential at the time of his death) have somehow have been nimbly airbrushed from the annuls of history.
The Ruts, who burst onto the punk-rock battlefield in 1979, were the perfect synthesis of punk and reggae, moving it on from The Clash into a tougher yet powerfully melodic place. Their musicianship was spot on and imaginative, and Owen was briefly given the mantle of spokesman for the punk-rock generation.
He has become one of the great lost front men of UK music; a figure who fronted a key band whose originality, power and influence has somehow been overlooked.
As Joe Strummer once didn’t quite say, “The future is rewritten”, and as the past becomes sieved and edited we sometimes lose the story.
There is much debate about nostalgia, but those who are relaxed about such things celebrate the modern and the past with equal ferocity. The problem is that certain icons have become deified and celebrated, while others have been brushed aside.
Whilst someone like the aforementioned and, admittedly brilliant, Ian Curtis hogs the media spotlight, the likes of Malcolm Owen are almost forgotten in the rush to canonise certain accepted figureheads.
It has become difficult to believe that The Ruts were a far bigger group than Joy Division were at the time, with a clutch of hits to their name. They had released a brilliant debut album and had a long lasting, if unrecognised, influence that has stretched through the decades.
The Ruts provided an escape route for the punk movement whose first wave had run its course. For a brief moment in time they threatened to take British punk into the next decade. They could have been the alpha punk band figure heading the UK scene into the 80s, replacing The Clash who were on their American trip already.
The Ruts would have opened the doors for many other like-minded, imaginative combos who wanted to push the form forwards but keep it inside its parameters of thrilling music. They would have added an experimental edge, a space provided by dub and funk and a commitment to mean something to the street and the punk rockers seeking direction.
Unfortunately, when Owen finally overdosed on July 14th 1980 at the age of 25, it effectively ended the brief career of one of the UK’s most exciting bands. It was a double shock to the fans who had assumed that The Ruts were actually the first of a new type of group who were beyond drugs – in reality, they were very much part of the London scene and had a reputation for on-the-road ferocious partying.
The Ruts had promised a future and delivered a stunning 18 month assault that should be remembered to this day.
I can still remember that thrill of discovery three decades ago when the first John Peel plays of the band were broadcast in January 1979.
At school, the clutch of us who were hooked into punk and post-punk would crackle with the excitement of each new discovery that cropped up in the music press or on John Peel.
And it was Peel, of course, who had just played this track ‘In A Rut’ by the bluntly named Ruts, who were coming out of the Southall/Hayes end of London, on his evangelical show that is still yet to be matched in the years since his untimely death. In 2010 there is no way music this edgy would get near so called “alternative” (the most meaningless word in the musical lexicon) radio. It was the same then apart from the maverick Peel, whose show from 1976 to 1985 was perhaps the best radio show ever.
And it was Peel, who in early 1979, played the tune that was getting discussed in thrilled tones by our gangly group of teens. Here, it seemed, was another punk band just when we thought the whole thing had run out of steam.
By the end of 1978 they were already saying that punk was dead, despite the avalanche of the younger kids just getting into it. Punk had seemed to have played itself out. After all, how many more combinations could there be of the three-chord trick?
The Ruts were the first of the second wave bands – the much maligned and constantly misunderstood next phase of punk that took their cue from the initial wave of excitement of the form. Many of these bands thrilled in the rudimentary and matched the desperate times. These were monochromatic years of dissolution and apocalyptic paranoia, and things were about to get a whole lot worse…
Margaret Thatcher was about to get into power, and things were going to get a damn site tougher. Punk’s second wave captured this mood perfectly and seemed to be in a running musical battle with the establishment. The Ruts brief sojourn was one of the key musical fight backs that really meant something in a sea of soppy shite.
The second wave was tougher and more linear than the class of ’77. It has been brushed aside by the media who will endlessly celebrate the mythical and admittedly genius first wave, whilst treating the second wave of punk as a musical leper colony.
The cliché of the second wave and other related genres being thick and unimaginative is constantly proven wrong with a cursory look at the bands involved. From the anarchist, almost art-rock punk of Crass to the superior rock & roll of the UK Subs to the dark feral primal power of Killing Joke: there were so many wonderful moments in this period that it could be argued that the combined second wave of punk and its close mate – the birth pangs for the Goth scene – were in fact some of the most fertile breeding ground for British rock ever.
The Ruts debut single, ‘In A Rut’, was primal proto punk that hinted at something far smarter. Its structure was lopsided and anthemic – a brilliant piece of rabble rousing, proto-Clash street aggro – but there was something else going on. Something far smarter and considered, and it came armed with a brilliantly, rough vocal from Malcolm Owen, whose voice oozed a street charisma.
Their next single was the brilliant ‘Babylon’s Burning’, the perfect synthesis of the punky reggae party built around its killer bassline from bassman Segs, who would later be found playing in the Alabama Three. There was even an element of funk to the bass workout and a stunning piece of guitar work from the late Paul Fox, whose playing was always really inventive.
When Foxy died a couple of years ago from lung cancer, the UK lost one of its great guitar players. The UK punk scene rallied on news of his diagnosis and a very special gig was played in London, where a reformed Ruts took to the stage for one last time with Henry Rollins fronting the band in place of the late Malcolm Owen to run through six Ruts songs. When Paul Fox took to the stage an emotionally charged room watched a frail, heroic guitar hero pay his final show.
Rollins claimed he had seen the toughest man in his life and the guitar player, who had by then only one lung left, rocked hard and even moved about the stage. Post gig he collapsed backstage – exhausted, but a heroic figure.
30 years before, his guitar work was key to a band that was re-creating punk rock. Their rhythm section was adding the fluidity of reggae to the toughness of punk. The singles that followed ‘Babylon’s Burning’ were ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’ and ‘Something That I Said’, both of which were key signposts in the musical evolution of the era.
The band’s debut album explored this inventiveness further. Their sheer musicality and sense of adventure was never an excuse for the sort of self-indulgence and snobbery that ruined the fringes of the post-punk scene.
Despite this, The Ruts never forgot that their duty was to the mosh pit and also to the punk political. Their songs referenced the real tension of the UK.
The band were never scared to make a stand in the tense English civil war of the period, and their music cemented the diversity that people almost take for granted now.
All the time Owen was the charismatic frontman with one of those tough, yet emotional voices that score heavily in punk-rock. His stage presence was phenomenal. A rugged and tough face on top of a gangling frame, he dressed smart and looked like he lived all his lyrics. His words were cutting and eloquent takes on the punk-rock nation and connected with the mainstream. He had the criminal style and the suss to front the band into the next decade and to become a Weller/Strummer/Terry Hall hybrid – but also one of those quirky, ‘we really mean it, man’ frontmen that the UK of that period was conversely so good at creating in that frilliest of decades.
He had been on the endless road for some time. In the early 70s he had been on the hippy trail in India in and later lived on communes in places like Anglesey with Paul Fox. While they all drifted back down south and played in bands it was Owen, who in 1976, after hearing The Clash, cropped his hair and bullied his mates into putting a punk band together.
Easily as charismatic as Joe Strummer, Owen was a brilliant frontman, an impassioned and powerful performer with a deep intelligence and a big heart whose chemical dependencies would sadly catch up with him.
Just when the band was hitting a peak in 1980 with an upcoming sold out UK tour, starting work on a new album and an American tour planned, Owen started to hit the skids. After some gigs were cancelled the rest of the band fired him because of his drug dependency – an act of tough love that temporarily helped to get the frontman to change his ways.
Heartbroken that the band had fallen apart due to his chemical dependency, Owen got straight and persuaded them to reform.
When he persuaded his mates to regroup The Ruts he hit the town. He took one last line of H and succumbed to the deadly kickback from the drug in the bathroom of his parent’s house in Hayes. It was a sad epitaph to a briefly brilliant career that had promised so much and left so many what ifs.
There was one last single. Recorded shortly before he had been sacked the band had finished work on ‘West One (Shine On Me)’, a dark song that somehow conveyed the hopelessness of the situation. It was a posthumous mini hit.
Owen will always be recognised as one of the coolest punk rock geezers, and a face from the past who could have contributed so much more but at least left behind a brilliant and impassioned legacy that helped to shape our lives.
Anyone who really cares about punk rock deeply cares about the Ruts. Henry Rollins will always tell you about the genius of the band, as will Ian MacKaye, whose work with Fugazi was almost like a continuation of the Ruts experimental work. For many of us in the punk-rock nation, they remain one of key bands of their generation, and a sadness remains in trying to guess what they and Malcolm Owen have become.
With thanks to John Robb

Saturday

Fiction Tales


Have you ever been looking for that one gem of an album while flicking through crate upon crate of dead vinyl? Yeah? Well, flick no more because you’ve found that one gem, that moment when you slip the 38 year old beloved black disc out from its sleeve and it’s pristine, not even a hairline scuff. Hold your breath because this vinyl rip is outstanding. Modern Eon were one of the many new wave Liverpool bands that should be better known. Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes are firm family favourites, from across the North of England bands like The Comsat Angels and The Chameleons…but hardly anyone knows Modern Eon. With a handful of singles and one album to their name it’s really not surprising that they’re not well known. Their blend of paranoid dreamy vocals and strange synth shapes supported by some creative bass and rather tired, but right on trend for 1980, drums generates an overall cold feeling to the album. This is Post Punk at its best with a band trying to find their way in a mine field where many have tread and failed before. Listen out for Euthenics.

Friday

All The Gods Men


Blue In Heaven were perhaps one of the more interesting Irish groups of the early to mid-1980s. Founded in 1982 in Churchtown, Dublin, they lasted just seven years and released only two albums, an EP and a number of singles. The debut album from Blue In Heaven comes with a dark indie-pop atmosphere that provokes thoughts of Joy Division, The Horrors and other titans of new wave and post punk leanings. All The Gods Men, was a tinny artefact from the dying embers of post punk with much to recommend it, not least the proto-goth guitars, Martin Hannett’s just so production and singer Shane O’Neill’s voice, which didn’t so much sing the songs as wander hither and yon above the instrumentation. But what instrumentation! Remarkably over-emphatic bass lines two steps removed from Joy Division or ‘Movement’ era New Order underpin the tracks; but heavier, much much heavier (I’d dearly love to know how they achieved that), sheets of guitar sound fade in and out, martial drum beats predominate. And then there were the lyrics themselves which when not moodily enigmatic appeared to be mostly concerned with sex. One has to wonder how much of this was Hannett’s doing and how much theirs; and while similar thoughts are raised by many groups he produced the overall effect here was fascinating. It was no masterpiece; let’s be clear, but it was different and that was no small thing in the context of Irish music of the period. Drowned in reverb and almost indecipherable at times, All The Gods Men is a challenge, but a rewarding one.

Thursday

Churchtown


Into Paradise were a group from Dublin, Ireland whose influences included Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. They formed in 1986 as 'Backwards into Paradise', and released their debut EP 'Blue Light' in 1989 on the independent label Setanta. Soon after came the EP 'Change' and the band's first full-length album, 'Under the Water'. During this period they became notorious for gigs which often ended with fighting between band members.
The group's debut, released in 1990 and produced by ex-Sound frontman Adrian Borland, found Into Paradise (singer/guitarist Dave Long, guitarist/keyboardist James Eadie, bassist Rachel Tighe and drummer Ronan Clarke) owing a heavy debt to the Bunnymen's landmark 1980 LP, Crocodiles. The shame was that a few genuinely good tracks got buried in the band's attempt at homage. However, someone kicked Into Paradise firmly in the collective rear just in time for the release of Churchtown the following year; the group sounded newly-energized, "Churchtown" is just a straight forward rock album. Nothing really fancy with this one however the songs are just incredible. Singer Dave Long spills his heart out over the 12 tracks; "Rain Comes Down" blasts your bloody speakers off the wall. Produced again by Borland, Churchtown showed off a large-scale dramatic sweep, augmented by consistently strong, attractive melodies.

Tuesday

Celestial


With a name like Heavenly Bodies and an album title like Celestial, it's easy to draw a bead on the group's sound before the shrink-wrap even comes off the record. This is indeed lush, ethereal music, crafted by a trio of 4AD alumni: Scott Rodger and James Pinker were in the original incarnation of Dead Can Dance, while Caroline Seaman was one of the featured vocalists on the second This Mortal Coil album, Filigree and Shadow. With all those connections and sounding very much like the sum of all its parts, you’d expect Heavenly Bodies to be signed to 4AD. Close, but you’d be wrong. Signed to C’est La Mort in the US and Third Mind Records in Europe and the UK, Celestial is a very classy one album and done release. The album has a weird gimmick of having an instrumental song between every song with vocals. This just makes it seem a little predictable and contrived when there’s no reason these fully formed instrumentals shouldn't have vocals, they're not any different from the album compositionally, with the exception of Cavatina which is a great ambient piece.

Monday

Punch


Let’s make this a strong contender for follow up of the week. 4AD had a wide range of styles and none more widely than Colourbox. Formed by brothers Martyn and Steve Young, Ian Robbins, and vocalist Debbion Currie (Robbins and Currie left the band in 1983, with the role of vocalist being filled by Lorita Grahame) the band were active between 1982 and 1987. Their sound was eclectic, drawing from reggae and soul influences (with covers of tracks by U-Roy and Augustus Pablo being released as singles), beat-box driven hip-hop rhythms, blue-eyed soul, as well as a fusion of far-ranging influences spanning from classic R&B, to dub and industrial. “Punch” was released during the long lazy summer of ’84 sounding bright and breezy in stark contrast to their stable mates.