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Some Candy Talking

Arguably Psychocandy is an album with one trick and one trick alone -- Beach Boys melodies meet Velvet Underground feedback and beats, all cranked up to ten and beyond, along with plenty of echo. However, what a trick it is. Following up on the promise of the earliest singles, the Jesus and Mary Chain with Psychocandy arguably created a movement without meaning to, one that itself caused echoes in everything from bliss-out shoegaze to snotty Britpop and back again. The best tracks were without question those singles, anti-pop yet pure pop at the same time: "Just Like Honey," starting off like the Ronettes heard in a canyon and weirdly beautiful with its bells, "You Trip Me Up" and its slinking sense of cool, and most especially "Never Understand." Storming down like a rumble of bricks wrapped in cotton candy and getting more and more frenetic at the end, when there's nothing but howls and screaming noise, it is one hell of a track. However, at least in terms of sheer sonic violence and mayhem, most of the other cuts were pretty hard to beat, as sprawling, amped-up messes like "The Living End" (which later inspired both a band and a movie title) and "In a Hole." "My Little Underground" is actually the secret gem on the album, with a great snarling guitar start, an almost easygoing melody and a great stuttering chorus -- not quite the Who but not quite anything else. What the Reids sing about -- entirely interchangeable combinations regarding girls, sex, drugs, speed, and boredom in more or less equal measure -- is nothing compared to the perfectly disaffected way those sentiments are delivered. Bobby Gillespie's "hit the drums and then hit them again" style makes Moe Tucker seem like Neil Peart, but arguably in terms of sheer economy he doesn't need to do any more.

They declared it and it was true. In 1985 The Jesus And Mary Chain were the best band in the world. Their first record 'Psychocandy' was released on Blanco y Negro and it was unlike anything that had ever come before. The mysterious world that they built from their sound and ideology marked the start of a new era.
'Back To The Future' had hit the theatres, Madonna was hot, fluorescent synths and cock metal were blazing, and then there they were. Two dysfunctional brothers from Scotland, Jim and William Reed. Their hair was teased, bodies plastered in black leather, hanging on the beach, and always wearing sunglasses. Their shows would end with crowds rioting and smashing clubs to pieces. They would trash-talk all other music, not give a fuck about anything, and do this all while fabricating beautiful white noise symphonies. They seemed like gods.
When 'Psychocandy' came out it purposefully destroyed all other music that had come before it. The album was loaded with some of the greatest pop songs of all time. Tracks like 'My Little Underground' and 'Never Understand' are annihilated with feedback and ear piercing noise. The art was so pure; they created a baby and aborted it. Usually musicians were trying to get attention by showing off how good they could craft a song or how virtuous they could wank their instruments. This Jesus And Mary Chain seemed like they sneezed out amazing hits and then chose to make them unlistenable. This was the new punk.
I remember when I bought 'Psychocandy'. I was rummaging through a huge bin of gospel records at a church estate sale, bored really. The selection in a bin of religious records is typically more dire than you could possibly imagine, but there it was. 'Psychocandy' was probably mistakenly bought by the church but I didn't care. It was my new soundtrack. The record player I had had at the time was one of those rubbish, all in one, Panasonic, fake wood, tape eating monsters, and it had played so many records that the needle scratched into whatever was placed on it. This record was perfect for it. It was the most fucked up album I had ever heard and it sounded great even under bad circumstances. They had crackles and pops, and the soundscapes were so beautifully arranged that I would even put the record on to cure a headache. I had never heard anything sound like that before and when I found out the sounds were coming from a guitar, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
'Psychocandy' was such an important record for me when I was discovering my absolute love for music. My older brother had just introduced me to Punk and that blew my world apart. I departed from the older 50's and 60's music I had grown up with, to this new aggressive influence. Then The Jesus and Mary Chain married the two. There was something calculated to the chaos. All the songs appeared perfectly crafted like the old pop I used to love and yet sounded so out of control it was hard to tell what was going on. I didn't realize until later in life how awesome the power of ambiguity could be. The overall mood of the music was so mysterious it allowed my imagination to fill in the gaps. It was like the perfect adaptable puzzle piece that would make me sad when I was feeling down and lift me up when I was on fire. It became the most personal experience ever. The Jesus And Mary Chain had just touched my soul.
Now I play, record, write, produce music and engineer devices that create music. It all began with what are now faded memories of bands and styles that crafted my youth. So if you forget what it feels like to be alive, do what this 30-year-old gem did for me. Ditch your friends for one night, get high and turn this album up as loud as it gets. Let the Jesus and Mary Chain trip you up.

Oliver Ackermann


Oh Well, Whatever...

Nevermind was never meant to change the world, but you can never predict when the Zeitgeist will hit, and Nirvana's second album turned out to be the place where alternative rock crashed into the mainstream. This wasn't entirely an accident, either, since Nirvana did sign with a major label, and they did release a record with a shiny surface, no matter how humongous the guitars sounded. And, yes, Nevermind is probably a little shinier than it should be, positively glistening with echo and fuzzbox distortion, especially when compared with the black-and-white murk of Bleach. This doesn't discount the record, since it's not only much harder than any mainstream rock of 1991, its character isn't on the surface, it's in the exhilaratingly raw music and haunting songs. Kurt Cobain's personal problems and subsequent suicide naturally deepen the dark undercurrents, but no matter how much anguish there is on Nevermind, it's bracing because he exorcises those demons through his evocative wordplay and mangled screams -- and because the band has a tremendous, unbridled power that transcends the pain, turning into pure catharsis. And that's as key to the record's success as Cobain's songwriting, since Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl help turn this into music that is gripping, powerful, and even fun (and, really, there's no other way to characterize "Territorial Pissings" or the surging "Breed"). In retrospect, Nevermind may seem a little too unassuming for its mythic status -- it's simply a great modern punk record -- but even though it may no longer seem life-changing, it is certainly life-affirming, which may just be better.

It has been 25 years since Kurt Cobain and company revitalised an increasingly moribund rock genre with their breakout grunge masterpiece. Perusing the original inner-sleeve photos, it immediately strikes me that Cobain is more smiling, podgy and playful than his reconfigured image as a doomed and tortured artist allows. There is a mischievousness to Nevermind, immediately apparent on the album cover photo of a baby swimming after a dollar bill on a hook. But there is anger too, and sadness at the corruption of innocence, emotions which surge out of the speakers in the thrilling electric charge of Smells Like Teen Spirit.
The elusive yet somehow tangible truths in Cobain’s songwriting are located in the sound and the fury, the hurting tone of his voice, the alternately deadpan introversion and raw rage of his delivery. Addressing (and rebelling against) generational despair, Nirvana perform as if it is a matter of life and death, which retrospect tells us it really was.
The songs remain the same, boiling rock’s colours down to something almost monochrome, primal and essential. Nirvana cut through the self-consciousness of Eighties rock with the pop nous of Abba. These songs are short, melodic and hook-laden, performed with distilled economy by a perfectly balanced power trio. Krist Novoselic’s bass lines are liquid and mesmerising, Dave Grohl’s drums are frenzied yet direct, the grungy fuzz of Cobain’s rhythm guitar is adorned by elegant, fluid lead motifs. Much was made of the group’s loud/quiet dynamic, but their simple template embodies a world of contrasts: intimate and expansive, melancholic and furious, deep and meaningless. And Cobain’s voice carries us through his complex interior world like a spirit guide.
It’s an album undiminished by time, which can still make me want to throw myself around an imaginary mosh pit or curl up in a fetal ball.

How the music scene could do with something like this right now.


Punk's Not Dead

Originally issued in 1981, Punks Not Dead was the Exploited's first full-length album. They'd issued singles like "Army Life" and "Exploited Barmy Army" previously, and those were re-recorded for what was hailed and/or reviled as a jagged, messy, and more aggressive reaction to the punk "establishment" of the time. The mix of hate and love toward the Exploited was fine by vocalist Wattie Buchan and his revolving cast of bandmembers -- they just wanted a reaction, to get people to really listen. Tracks like "S.P.G.," "Out of Control," and "I Believe in Anarchy" were mush-mouthed dynamos of chanting, ranting, and ragged song structure, early templates of the U.S. hardcore scene to come.

Take a moment and think of how many times you've heard, read or even come across the phrase “Punk's not Dead”. Interesting how it has become one of the most passed around sayings of the last three decades, yet the debut album of the same name by The Exploited still seems to be very much underrated in a world that nowadays regards bands such as Green Day and Blink 182 as 100% Punk Rock. A phrase that very often arrives in many topical conversations regarding the state of politics, the significance of the Punk Rock genre as a whole or even the riotous speeches and righteous riots that many an angered, political individual would perform.
Put simply, The Exploited's first album is perfect evidence of a band being so much more influential in terms of their concept than the music itself. Thirty odd minutes of simple, fast paced, furious Punk Rock may not sound much to the common listener, but it's with these thirty minutes and seventeen songs that “Punk's not Dead” is surely proved to be a worthwhile album. Comprised of no other than an aggressive ex-soldier from Scotland in Wattie Buchan, alongside three other equally as “politically correct” musicians who barely sound as if they so much as knew what the names of their respective instruments were, The Exploited began as a political statement. That statement can safely be summed up thusly:


Whatever you would expect from a Punk Rock album released in 1981 can probably be found in spades on this particular album, as it is musically one of the simplest and unsophisticated releases ever made. However, it is also a very organic and live-sounding record. Right from the opening title track, rowdy chants of a menacing yet youthful following of the band literally take place of the guitars, drums and bass work, until a chainsaw riff cuts through your ears as easily as a knife would through butter. This, if you haven't yet worked out, is indeed the staple of The Exploited's sound. Every one of the following sixteen songs generally follows in the same way, and for every change in tempo or every lyric that includes the well known 'F' word, there is always innocent, youthful banter between each member of the band or even a devoted fan of Punk Rock.
Lyrically speaking, it both sounds and reads as if a six-year old could have done it easily, but at the same time, all you need to do is look at this album's title, and discover the answer to that question, or the solution to whatever problem or quip you might have. In the very satirical 'Royalty' Buchan orders you to “Sign me a picture of the queen now/Dirty little Bitch, fucking little Cow”, whereas in the equally as aggressive “Son of a Copper” all known innocence of any individual is scoured when Wattie spits out “I won't end up like my Dad/And I won't end up being a Screw/Working with animals in a Zoo”. As said before, these could be advantages or disadvantages to any budding listener, but it is the idea that this album is nothing more than staple of classic Punk Rock, and quite rightfully so. Even when songs such as 'Exploited barmy Army' and 'Sex and Violence' literally depend on out of control repetition of their respective song titles, it works in such a way that, although hard to forget, can be forgiven when reviewing this album professionally. This may well be part of the fact that not only Wattie Buchan, but also every other member of the band contributes to vocals, whether it is the soulful group shouting/singing/screaming or the sole example of any member's voice. It's all heartfelt (!), menacing stuff, but it's stuff that manages to stay directly in contact with the 'Back-to-Basics' approach of playing Punk Rock.
The instruments themselves however are probably the main problem here. It's not exactly a well concealed fact that the band had tried to emulate the rawness of albums such as “Never Mind The Bollocks” or The Clash's self-titled debut, but “Punk's Not Dead” could well have benefited more from a clearer and more definitive approach to practising instruments more than was perceived upon the album's release. For instance, the guitar work, whilst it does have a couple of tempo changes, never really attempts to show off to the listener with its plain existence, whereas the bass is more than just a little prominent. As well as this, the bass proves its worth on the album by introducing many of the album's tracks in 'Mucky Pup' and 'Free Flight', the latter of which basically centres around the instrument's performance.
The only other thing that hasn't been said so far about the album is the significance of the song structures themselves. The song structures in “Punk's Not Dead” can be perceived as a 'Love/Hate' relationship by each respective listener. Whereas the more straightforward, battering ram approach of 'Cop Cars', 'Army Life' (an ode to Wattie Buchan's life prior to The Exploited) and 'Blown to Bits' constantly impresses those who lust for classic Punk, the more tense likes of 'Dole Q' and the extremely sinister 'Out of Control' serve as two of the album's true highlights, offering not only an unsettling sound but also a deviation from the norm. However, the last point simply points towards the fact that whereas some listeners love this difference in structure, others may be disinterested simply because of the fact that they are used to short bursts of Punk Rock, speeding along at eighty miles per hour.
If ever you wanted to know just why the phrase “Punk's not Dead” is thrown around as much as it is, this album is definitively the answer. An erratic and chaotic collection of simplistic Punk Rock tunes, some sub-par, some above average, it is something that has been on this planet for the last thirty years, and has played a wonderful yet somewhat unnoticed part within three, perhaps, four decades of fast paced, furious and politically charged Punk. This album is honestly for everyone to listen to, but may only be kept like a prized possession by those who love and strive for the very existence of Punk Rock.


Never Mind The Bollocks Anniversary

While mostly accurate, dismissing Never Mind the Bollocks as merely a series of loud, ragged midtempo rockers with a harsh, grating vocalist and not much melody would be a terrible error. Already anthemic songs are rendered positively transcendent by Johnny Rotten's rabid, foaming delivery. His bitterly sarcastic attacks on pretentious affectation and the very foundations of British society were all carried out in the most confrontational, impolite manner possible. Most imitators of the Pistols' angry nihilism missed the point: underneath the shock tactics and theatrical negativity were social critiques carefully designed for maximum impact. Never Mind the Bollocks perfectly articulated the frustration, rage, and dissatisfaction of the British working class with the establishment, a spirit quick to translate itself to strictly rock & roll terms. The Pistols paved the way for countless other bands to make similarly rebellious statements, but arguably none were as daring or effective. It's easy to see how the band's roaring energy, overwhelmingly snotty attitude, and Rotten's furious ranting sparked a musical revolution, and those qualities haven't diminished one bit over time. Never Mind the Bollocks is simply one of the greatest, most inspiring rock records of all time.

In the summer of 1977 the UK was gripped with unprecedented patriotic fervour, with street parties being held up and down the country in celebration of the Queen’s 25th anniversary rule (her Silver Jubilee). Into this pandemic outpouring of joy, this euphoric coming together of the nation, stepped a man with green hair, rotten teeth and an “I hate Pink Floyd” t-shirt; who promptly gobbed on the home-made cakes, pissed in the lemonade shandies and tore the flags of his benevolent ruler into tiny little pieces.
In one sense Johnny Rotten was the typical teenager, with his desperate desire to shock, such as the gleeful stressing of “c*nt” in Pretty Vacant and the gratuitous swearing in Bodies. Except that most teenagers are obsessed one way or another with sex, whereas Rotten seems strangely asexual. He doesn’t write about love and relationships. In fact he even had a massive hit with a song saying exactly that (This is Not A Love Song - Public Image Ltd).
His sneering take on the national anthem (“God Save The Queen and her fascist regime”) was considered so subversive, the BBC had to rig the charts (really!) to keep it off the no.1 spot. The Sex Pistols had already caused pandemonium with their debut single Anarchy in the UK, causing questions to be asked in Parliament and the national newspapers. The furore forced EMI and then A&M to dismiss them from their recording contract and the BBC to ban them from the airwaves. A record shop that sold the single was prosecuted for indecency.
Listening to the record now, it is surprisingly good. Despite what you may have heard, they sure can play. Steve Jones guitar evokes Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls. Paul Cook’s drumming keeps everything tight. Matlock’s songwriting has plenty enough melodies. With the exception of Sub-mission, the songs are played at two paces: fast and even faster, recalling the Ramones. But it is the iconoclastic Johnny Rotten who single-handedly spawns the UK punk movement; his lyrics spewing all forms of bile and vitriol, dripping with confrontation and screaming defiance.

Before the Sex Pistols, there was heavy metal, rock operas, glam rock and prog rock: all various forms of musical escapism. Yet thirty years after World War II, the country still writhed not just in economic disorder but social disarray, with unresolved issues such as mass immigration, welfare dependency, terrorism and cold war paranoia. Johnny Rotten returns us to earth with a bump, espousing a basic humanist philosophy, an articulate and eloquent diatribe on a post war dream gone wrong:
“You won’t find me working 9 to 5. It’s too much fun being alive. I’m using my feet for my human machine. You won’t find me living for the screen. Are you lonely? All your needs catered? You got your brains dehydrated!” (Problems)
What Rotten is concerned with is the here and now. He attacks all types of invocations to higher powers including God (“I kick you in the brains when you pray to your god” (No Feelings), political institutions (God Save The Queen) and business corporations (EMI). But more specifically he also attacks all forms of escapism (Holiday In The Sun), whether it be drugs (New York), moral mendacity (Liar), indolence (Seventeen) or intellectual pretension (Pretty Vacant). Above all else he urges the primacy of life, forever posing the question: what is a human being? Are we “morons”; “faggots”; “fools”; “stupid people”; “flowers in the dustbin”; “animals”? The genuinely disturbing Bodies reduces the matter of humanity to its barest of bones:
“Die little baby screaming! Body screaming f*cking bloody mess!
Not an animal, it's an abortion! Body! I'm not animal!
Mummy I'm not an abortion.” (Bodies)

This album represented a call to arms of the nation that was far more empowering than any Silver Jubilee. Think of all the bands that were formed on this premise that music was about emotion, not technical proficiency: knowing three chords was sufficient. Think of all the fanzines that sprung up to describe these bands and the independent record labels formed. It wasn’t just the birth of a punk movement and its splinter groups. A whole series of radicalised and energised music movements broke out, grounded in realism and humanism, such as Ska (The Specials), Skinhead (Madness), Mod (The Jam), Rockabilly (The Polecats), New Wave (Elvis Costello), Post Punk (Joy Division), even Folk (Billy Bragg) and Irish Folk music (The Pogues); all defiant, confrontational and politicised; and all revering the Sex Pistols.
Don’t let yourself be fooled by Malcolm McLaren, the band’s avaricious and rent-a-quote manager, that the Sex Pistols were some kind of social experiment that he had fabricated. He was just hanging on to their coat-tails, milking the phenomenon for all it was worth. His subsequent interventions, such as his mockumentary “The great rock and roll swindle”, his replacement of Matlock with Vicious (as bass player), of Rotten with Vicious (as lead vocalist), of Vicious with Ronnie Biggs (a notorious career criminal), were woeful. Despite recording only one album and four singles, the impact of the Sex Pistols was phenomenal.


Damned Anniversary Editions

If you like punk rock at all, you pretty much have to have a soft spot for the Damned's epochal 1976 debut album Damned Damned Damned, one of the masterstroke releases of the first wave of British punk which still sounds fresh, exciting and brilliantly snotty three decades after it was released. But if you love Damned Damned Damned, well, this remastered and lavishly expanded edition will bring a broken-toothed grin to your face in no time flat. This three-disc set (yes, three discs!) opens with the original album, which seems to have hardly dated a bit. For all the group's manic energy, the playing is sharp and muscular, Dave Vanian's vocals are powerful enough to make his histrionics work, Rat Scabies' drumming holds the band tight, Captain Sensible's bass provides a solid foundation for the melodies and Brian James' guitar wails with primitive force. The songs still communicate, and the band's lack of an upfront political or social agenda means these songs aren't chained to their era the way the early Clash, Sex Pistols or Stiff Little Fingers discs are, great as they may be. Disc two serves up 26 demos, B-sides, non-LP single tracks and radio recordings, which equals nearly everything the band recorded during their first year of operations. The two John Peel sessions and a ten-song BBC live concert will delight anyone with a fondness for the band's first era, and you may want to give "Singalong Scabies" ("Stab Your Back" minus its vocal track) a spin at your next karaoke party. And Disc three features a lo-fi recording of one of the Damned's first public gigs, a set recorded in London during the 100 Club's first Punk Rock Festival in the summer of 1977. The recording quality is only fair, and the audience doesn't seem to be too enthusiastic, but the Damned give their all, and the show is both exciting and historically priceless. The set comes with a 16-page booklet packed with photos and featuring an excellent historical essay from Kieron Tyler. [The 30th Anniversary Expanded Edition of Damned Damned Damned not only adds plenty of fine music and historical perspective to one of the great albums of the British punk scene; this is simply essential stuff, and rock & roll fun at its most dangerous.]

“I thought the Damned caught the true spirit of punk, 
as understood by punks, better than their rivals’ – John Peel

The Damned were, for a short while in 1976, well ahead of the game. Their appearance on the nascent Stiff label joined the dots between punk’s older brother: pub rock and the younger, hipper crowd. Not only did they use ex-Brinsley Schwartz bass player Nick Lowe as house producer, but the label printed a picture of Eddie And The Hot Rods on the rear. Each track feature’s the hammering toms of Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible’s bass-as-guitar propelling Brian James’ machine gun axe. If Dave Vanian’s frequently flat delivery sounded distinctly laissez faire then it all added to the thrill of a band bent on acts of auto-destruction.
The key moment has to be Vanian’s sarcastic lampooning of the Shangri-Las in his ‘Is she really going out with him?’ intro to “New Rose”. This was a band who wanted to exercise the fact that they’d fused their love of early Stooges, MC5 into witty, brief bursts of anti-pop.
Brian James’ songs somehow encapsulated the thrill and nihilism of youth (“I Feel Alright”, “Neat Neat Neat”, “I Fall”) while Rat Scabies’ one contribution injected a fine sense of nasty humour as well (“Stab Your Back”).
The album highlights a number of ‘firsts’. The first UK punk single (“New Rose”), the first punk band to land a major tour (supporting Marc Bolan) and, of course, the first proper punk LP (easily a year before the Pistols).


Inflammable Material

Originally released in 1979, Stiff Little Fingers were Ireland's answer to both the Clash and the Sex Pistols. They had the personal and political stance of the former, and the noisy, pissed off, slash-and-burn musical aesthetic as the latter. Fronted by guitarist and songwriter Jake Burns (he collaborated with journalist Gordon Ogilvie), SLF took off with their two singles "Alternative Ulster," and, for that time, the utterly out of control screaming that was "Suspect Device." These two singles make the purchase price of the album a priority. They represent barely contained youthful anger at social and political mores as righteous, utterly devoid of posturing or falsity and raging to break out. "Alternative Ulster" decries the Irish political sides in the Northern Ireland controversy -- the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Irish Republican Army -- holding them both accountable for bloodshed and social and economic stasis furthering nothing but their own interests. "Suspect Device" which opens the set, screams at the heart of the conflict, that neither side can be believed as both reduce freedom to a buzzword while wielding guns. Both tracks are calls to arms, but of a different sort; the arms of dialogue and intelligence in the midst of idiocy and murder. Punk rock never sounded so brutal or positive in one band. There are other fine cuts here as well, such as the Bob Marley cover "Johnny Was," reinvented for the times in Northern Ireland; "Wasted Life," another paean to drop out of a society that breeds death and acquiescence for its own sake, and the scathing indictment of the record company that released the album, "Rough Trade." The bonus material includes the single mix of "Suspect Device," the B-side "78 RPM.” If you've been trying to dig through the morass into the heart of punk's original fire, this one's for you.

All early punk rock was fuelled by anger, but in the grand scheme of things, most of the bands in question really didn't have all that much to get worked up about. Political injustice, social meltdown and label disputes are far from ideal, but it's not as if the Sex Pistols or The Clash et al were living in a war zone, with troops lining their streets, the sound of bombs ringing in their ears and no clear end to their life-or-death issues. Stiff Little Fingers on the other hand, did experience all of that. Hailing for Belfast, Northern Ireland, SLF was formed by a quartet of school friends at the height of the nation's Troubles. They may on the surface seem like your typical punks with their limited skills as musicians and full-throttle approach to writing, but where most of the genre's early torch bearers carried gimmicks, Stiff Little Fingers had none. They were the real deal; a bunch of ordinary kids from a working class background with something genuinely worth getting pissed about, and as such it comes as no surprise that their debut LP remains one of punk's defining statements.
The commonly used "Irish Clash" tag is a lazy one, but there can be no denying the influence that Strummer and co had on SLF. Band leader Jake Burns has never made a secret of his admiration of the London legends, and cites his first spin of their classic self-titled debut as a key moment on his road towards forming his own group. The Clash's imprint can be found all over his songs too, with a similar balance of grit and melody appearing in the records more up-tempo moments. There's even a reggae crossover here in the form of their Bob Marley cover "Johnny Was," which along with the classic singles lifted from the album (more on them later) ranks among the highlights.
As well as being songwriter in-chief, Burns also acts as the single most important component of the band's sound throughout Inflammable Material. The record's production is red raw, but even less polished is the singer's voice, an intense, powerful and yes, angry weapon which gives the majority of his songs their added edge. Even more impressive are Burns' lyrics, which provide absolutely everything you'd want from an album made in such desperate context. As far as openings go, the shrill cry of "Inflammable material is planted in my head/ It's a suspect device that's left 2000 dead" takes some beating, and the album is packed full of similar moments of introspective genius. Take "Wasted Life" for instance, a stinging anti-militant anthem packed with refrains such as "I won't be a soldier/ I won't take no orders from no-one/ Stuff their fucking armies/ Killing isn't my idea of fun" which ring just as true today as they did when they were written 37 years ago.
"Wasted Life" and the aforementioned opener "Suspect Device" make up two thirds of a trio of singles which are quite simply stone-cold punk classics. The third, "Alternative Ulster" was also the most successful, topping the UK's independent chart but more importantly providing perhaps the most frank statement of dissatisfaction with their homeland on the whole record. The rest of it isn't half bad either, and can pack just as strong a punch. In true punk fashion, the band experienced a backlash to the raging blast of "White Noise," with many accusing them of being racists despite the fact that the song's underlying message is of quite the opposite stance. Not so controversial but equally thrilling are the likes of "No More Of That" and "Breakout," but amid those standard punk moments it's "Barbed Wire Love" which brings the biggest surprise. As its title alludes, it's lyrical core is as abrasive as Burns' other songs, but this composition also shows his more tender side, displaying a versatility which the band would come to expand on with subsequent releases.
Really, the only misstep here is finale "Closed Groove," a song which holds a similar level of lyrical brilliance as the 12 to it, but fits them around a melody which sounds pathetically amateur. Burns himself has never held back in his criticism of it, claiming that he's never rated it as a song, and deeply regrets including it an album where it simply doesn't fit. Aside from that though, there's not really much that you can fault with Stiff Little Fingers' debut. Its singles may rank as clear high-watermarks, but the same could be said of just about any classic punk album of its time, and the album tracks can certainly hold their own anyhow. They may have arrived a little late and thus missed out on the hysteria surrounding the genre's earlier bands, but Inflammable Material was just about as genuine as punk rock got, and for that reason alone it deserves to grace anyone's collection.


Kill City

To say Iggy Pop had hit bottom in 1975 is an understatement; after the final collapse of the Stooges, Iggy sank deep into drug addiction and depression, and he eventually checked himself into a mental hospital in a desperate effort to get himself clean and functional again. At the same time, James Williamson, his guitarist and writing partner in the last edition of the Stooges, still believed their collaboration had some life in it, and he talked his way into Jimmy Webb's home studio to record demos in hopes of scoring a record deal. Iggy checked out of the hospital for a weekend to cut vocal tracks, and while the demos they made were quite good, no record companies were willing to take a chance on them. The tapes sat unnoticed until 1977, when Bomp! Records issued the 1975 demos under the title Kill City after Iggy launched a comeback with the David Bowie-produced The Idiot. Kill City never hits as hard as the manic roar of the Stooges' Raw Power, but the songs are very good, and the album's more measured approach suits the dark, honest tone of the material. The sense of defeat that runs through "Sell Your Love," "I Got Nothin'," and "No Sense of Crime" was doubtless a mirror of Iggy's state of mind, but he expressed his agony with blunt eloquence, and his sneering rejection of the Hollywood street scene in "Lucky Monkeys" is all the more cutting coming from a man who had lived through the worst of it. And in the title song, Iggy expressed his state of mind and sense of purpose with a fierce clarity: "If I have to die here, first I'm going to make some noise." Considering Iggy's condition in 1975, his vocals are powerful and full-bodied, as good as anything on his solo work of the 1970s. The music is more open and bluesy than on Raw Power, and while Williamson's guitar remains thick and powerful, here he's willing to make room for pianos, acoustic guitars, and saxophones, and the dynamics of the arrangements suggest a more mature approach after the claustrophobia of Raw Power. Kill City is rough, flawed, and dark, but it also takes the pain of Iggy's nightmare days and makes something affecting out of it, and considering its origins, it's a minor triumph.
Sadly, though, original CD versions of Kill City are taken off of vinyl, making one wonder just what may have happened to the master tapes. A remixed and remastered Kill City (not unlike what Iggy did to Raw Power) wouldn’t be bad thing at all, but one wonders if the tapes have merely disintegrated under the weight of their own existence. Judging from the fact that Iggy himself barely survived that period of his history, it wouldn’t be at all surprising.

It's fair to say, that with fifty years in show business, everything Iggy Pop has done has been scrutinised to a fine point. The man has more back-story than Jesus, and there have been a few biographies written about him. Paul Trynka's 'Open Up and Bleed' is perhaps the best, most in-depth account on the life of Iggy Pop. It's a fascinating read from cover to cover, and gives a little extra perspective on his life from before the Stooges up to their semi-recent reformation. It also covers the recording of Kill City, Iggy's 'lost' album between the disaster that was the end of the Stooges the first time around and his peak period working with Bowie on The Idiot and Lust For Life. Originally recorded as a demo in stop start spurts as Pop was ferried by an erstwhile Stooges guitarist James Williamson from the psych ward to Jimmy Webb's home studio for vocal takes, Kill City really is the missing link between Raw Power and The Idiot.
Or rather, it would be if it hadn't been released already. The original recording was overdubbed and remixed by Williamson, long after he and Pop re-appropriated the original tapes, and was roundly panned by critics after being released on Bomp at the same time that two infinitely superior Iggy albums were on the shelves. As such Kill City doesn't represent a hidden diamond lost in the sands of time. Instead it stands as more of a black mark against the names of both men, and that is why this re-release has significance to the average Iggy Pop fan. After the sterling work done on The Stooges reissues, the chance for audible improvement on the original recording is tantalising. Will shifting some of the sonic grime afford the album a new status after the public gets a chance to hear it as it should have been?
There's no escaping the psychotic dynamism of 'Kill City', a song about living fast and potentially dying young. When Iggy suggests that LA is a "loaded gun" and that you could end up "overdosed and on your knees", he's reading out what could have been the end of his life story. The riff is one of Williamson's very finest, too. As Iggy was burning out, Williamson was just burning, and here he nails down the kind of solo that most rock guitarists would give their eye teeth just to be able to play. And the mix is well and truly fixed too, with vocals and guitars prominent, but the separation between the best of the rest of the instruments is noticeably improved from the thin sounding and tinny original.
'Sell Your Love', a Rolling Stones tribute is also definitely better, the sax work pulled away from the main body to provide depth instead of clutter, and the backing vocals are also far better defined. If I was a gambling man, I'd wager that Williamson had bad reviews ringing in his ears from the Seventies and had given improving the album some serious thought well before rejoining the Stooges. All speculation aside, there are improvements everywhere. 'No Sense Of Crime' is saved from the gutter and the savage percussive beating it took from stray bongos in the original mix, while 'I Got Nothin', a late era Stooges cast-off is given a boost by having the drums pushed up and the backing vocals taken down a touch. The song loses some of the sloppy brutality that the Stooges gave it live, and gets a bit more of a Rolling Stones makeover. In fact, Mick and Keith cast a long shadow over most of the record.
Working within the boundaries set by another (better) band like the Stones is a comfort but also a hindrance here, and highlights the lack of truly original, sharp songs actually recorded during the sessions. 'Consolation Prizes' is a throwaway Stonesy romp, and will please and infuriate in equal measure. 'Night Theme' and 'Night Theme (reprise)' are excellent spooky, spare instrumentals, but in total come in at two minutes 30 seconds. If you were to remove them from the track listing altogether you have nine tracks that run to about half an hour. If it weren't for their high quality, a cynic might suggest that they were padding, making the album look like it contained more material than it really did. There are a couple of old Stooges tracks in there, and the rest generally doesn't have the aggression of old, or the subtle verve of the later Bowie-era work.
'Johanna' is another Stooges chestnut, but is also the one instance where the new mix doesn't improve anything. Unless you really like cheesy Seventies sax poured over everything, in which case, this is the song for you. 'Beyond The Law' uses sax more sparingly, and works much better, with a bit more in the way of tempo and genuine defiance when Iggy screams out that "the real scene is out beyond the law". In balance, Kill City has never sounded better, and is about to be unleashed as it should have been at the time. Sadly, it's going to let everyone know that it, give or take a couple of highlights, was a stop-gap record all along. The mythos that surrounds the recording of Kill City may give it a little more interest and flavour for fans, but unless you're a die hard, this is one reissue that you can probably afford to miss.


Jumping Someone Else's Train

Standing On A Beach With A Gun In My Hand…

Falling somewhere between official release and compilation, Boys Don't Cry was released in February 1980 in hopes of increasing the band's exposure outside of the U.K. It captures the first phase of the band well, showcasing the angular new wave that had garnered them acclaim in England. The major difference separating this from the debut full-length (and thus qualifying it as an "official" release) is that unlike Three Imaginary Boys, the first three singles ("Killing an Arab," "Boys Don't Cry," and "Jumping Someone Else's Train") are included. A good starting point for getting up to speed on this era of the band, it works best when paired up with Three Imaginary Boys; then you'll get the complete picture.

By Debra Rae Cohen  

In the spectrum of self-conscious post punk British bands, the Cure fall squarely between Wire's sophisticated, jagged architectonics and the Undertones' concise, wide-eyed pop music. They incorporate a little of each. I guess this means that these guys average out at the college-sophomore level, which is appropriate, since their first British single (the desert-spare "Killing an Arab") was based on an Albert Camus novel, The Stranger. It's hard to pull off such a feat without being called pretentious, but Boys Don't Cry, the Cure's American debut, proves they can transcend their Comp. Lit. 201 (Elementary Angst) scenarios.

The Cure's bass-heavy, three man sound works like a telescopic lens, focusing and magnifying a hook around a central line or image that makes each vignette ring true, like the one piece of back ground bric-a-brac that makes a movie set seem real. Songwriter Robert Smith has a gift for close-ups: the apt, arty phrase or stinging, succinct guitar overdub. In "Fire in Cairo," he turns a simile into a mantra (his girlfriend's hair burns like "f-i-r-e i-n c-a-i-r-o") and reiterates it over a bumpy dance beat. Smith's sound-effects guitar in "Killing an Arab" (either crackling through the mix like reverberating gunfire or stringing snake-charmer melodies) transforms the terse lyrics into a you are there slide show: "Standing on a beach with a gun in my hand/Staring at the sea Staring at the sand Staring down the barrel at the Arab on the ground."

Chris Parry's crystal-clear production separates Michael Dempsey's bass and Lol Tolhurst's drums, as if to fence off a large patch of silence in the centre. Along with neat production touches like the clattering trash-can percussion that echoes into the distance on the fade of "Jumping Someone Else's Train," the empty spaces highlight the group's dynamic variations. Compositions like "10:15 Saturday Night" and "Subway Song" (about a girl or boy trailed in the shadows) have the edgy quietude of reality. Every drawn breath, each finger snapped in the darkness, falls distinctly and significantly.

Amid the Cure's nerve-edge numbers (hushed and haunting or insistent enough to make you dance to your own jitters) the title track is the odd tune out. "Boys Don't Cry" is a sweetly anguished pure-pop single, carried by an aching, infectious guitar hook and the singer's taffy pull croon. Though it doesn't have the film-clip explicitness of Smith's other songs, the words offer a nice twist on the standard lovelorn script: boy meets girl, mistreats girl, loses girl, yearns for girl but won't appear vulnerable, even to get her back. Hell, if Robert Smith ever decides to quit rock & roll, he's got a great career ahead of him writing for the movies.



Bands like Human League, A Flock Of Seagulls, Visage, Duran Duran and many others were making fashion statements almost as much as they were making musical statements. Their outfits were often unintentionally hilarious to look at, and sometimes the music was as empty as a bottle of gin at Keith Richards’ house. However, there were some bands that were able to rise above the vapidness and create some pretty enjoyable music that crossed dance and rock with synth-pop. Classix Nouveaux was one such band. They made an instant impression back in 1981-82 when their video for the pop classic “Guilty” was all over MTV. It appears on numerous ’80s compilations to this day. Guitarist/vocalist Sal Solo was the band’s frontman and he was quite a sight. Covered in rouge and cloaked in a dark, flowing cape with a shaved head he looked like Nosferatu the vampire but had an eerie appeal, as well.
Around the time of the interview in June 2002, he had been recording solo (no pun intended) for many years, with his music a far cry from his Classix days. He was happy to talk about all eras of his career.

I was always a fan of Classix Nouveaux in the ’80s. It was hard to learn much about you in America except through MTV, which played “Guilty” constantly. Where you guys ever aware of that at the time?

Sal Solo: Not really, because we came here with “Guilty” before MTV started. You know, “Guilty” was released in 1981, and the first time we came to America all we did was we went to a big kind of concert place in Manhattan called The Ritz. They were sort of introducing the New Wave of British bands, so I think that the week before us was Adam And The Ants and the next week was gonna be Spandeu Ballet then Duran Duran and then a few months later we came back and did a bit of a tour where we played Chicago and D.C. and some other places (I can’t quite remember them all) but this was probably the spring or the summer of ’81 …
What kind of happened was our most successful period in Britain and other countries came around just after that, around ’82, so we just didn’t come back to the States, really. That’s why you didn’t hear much! (Laughs) I do know a few people who were fans because of MTV.
The funny thing is, my impression of the United States the first time, maybe because it was Manhattan, was kind of taller buildings, bigger cars and fatter sandwiches, and it seemed very superficial.
So, I didn’t especially want to come back for a while, but then when I eventually did come back in the late ’80s, then I had a very different opinion because I somehow just started meeting people and the place is about people and not just about buildings! (Laughs)

Your music, in general, was always somewhat guitar-based. You had synthesizers, but you definitely strayed away from being like a band such as Human League.

SS: Yeah, I think that was sort of strange in a way, because it was always really a guitar rock band, and we were always doing the stadium gigs and really, it was just as near to U2 as it was to Spandau Ballet or something like Human League, as you say. And a lot of people didn’t really understand that, because they thought that the fashion was only about beat boxes and so on. But in a way, new movements in music, I think, generally speaking, kind of happen by accident. They’re not planned. I don’t think that a group of bands get together and say we’re going to start a new wave of music; it’s just a case of being in the right place at the right time. What was called the New Romantic thing at the time … I remember the first time that phrase was ever used. It was in one of the rock papers in the UK (it was NME or Sounds or something) and I think it was a member of the public that wrote in and said something about the New Romantics and mentioned Classix Nouveaux, Ultravox … And Japan was the other band, I think. All of us were groups that had been around a little while before that, but we weren’t really noticed because it wasn’t a fashion then. Interestingly, well, Ultravox was more kind of electronic than most of those early groups, but it was still more regular drums-and-guitars type stuff.
By Pete Braidis


Oh Bondage Up Yours!

Perhaps the most utopian aspect of the U.K. punk scene was that it offered creative, articulate young people the opportunity to express themselves, and to kick up an exuberantly noisy racket in the process. X-Ray Spex certainly came from this wing of the movement, the brainchild of two female schoolmates who re-christened themselves Poly Styrene and Lora Logic. X-Ray Spex was far from the only female-centred British punk act, but they were arguably the best, combining exuberant energy with a cohesive worldview courtesy of singer and songwriter Poly Styrene. As her nom de punk hinted, Styrene was obsessed with the artificiality she saw permeating Britain's consumer society, linking synthetic goods with a sort of processed, manufactured humanity. Styrene's frantic claustrophobia permeates the record, as she rails in her distinctively quavering yowl against the alienation she feels preventing her from discovering her true self. Germ Free Adolescents is tied together by Styrene's yearning to be free not only from demands for consumption, but from the insecurity corporate advertisers used to exploit their targets (especially in women) -- in other words, to enjoy being real, imperfect, non-sterile humans living in a real, imperfect, non-Day-Glo world. Fortunately, the record is just as effective musically as it is conceptually. It's full of kick-out-the-jams rockers, with a few up-tempo thrashers and surprisingly atmospheric pieces mixed in; the raw, wailing saxophone of Rudi Thomson (who replaced Lora Logic early on) gives the band its true sonic signature. The CD reissue of Germ Free Adolescents appends both sides of the classic debut single "Oh Bondage Up Yours!," one of the most visceral moments in all of British punk -- which means everything you need is right here.

“Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard… 

During the initial punk explosion in both the UK and America, there was no shortage of highly talented female artists, but nobody managed as potent a combination of rage, wickedly acerbic social commentary, pop hooks, and pure rock ‘n’ roll fun quite like X-Ray Spex did in 1977 and 1978. Led by a precociously talented, 20-year-old young woman of English-Somalian descent who named herself Poly Styrene, X-Ray Spex made a brief, but influential splash during punk’s initial heyday, kicked off by Styrene’s unforgettable, empowering rallying cry at the beginning of the band’s debut single, “Oh! Bondage Up Yours!” Over a simple punk rock arrangement, Styrene howled sarcastically in a powerful, upper-register scream, “Bind me tie me chain me to the wall/ I wanna be a slave to you all,” accompanied by a 16-year-old saxophone player named Lora Logic. The combination of sax solos and punk rock at its most feral was an odd combination, as if the musical Grease had been transported to late 1970s London, but as strange as it was, it was an effective gimmick for a while, as X-Ray Spex enjoyed a brief flirtation with mainstream success in England, before disappearing from the face of the earth.
X-Ray Spex remains one of punk rock’s most underrated bands, especially in North America, primarily because their 1977 debut album Germ Free Adolescents took a good 14 years to make its way Stateside, but the record is so timeless, so bursting with energy, it’s never too late to listen to it for the first time. Thanks to a snazzy re-release of the album, complete with nearly a dozen bonus tracks, Germ Free Adolescents not only shows younger listeners where Corin Tucker and Kathleen Hanna copped their vocal styles from, but it both skewers and celebrates consumer culture so brilliantly, it feels as pertinent now as it ever has.
As her London peers sung about anarchy, life on the dole, and the growing irrelevance of the monarchy, Styrene chose to focus more on consumerism and the increasing artificiality making its way into every facet of popular culture, and the theme runs rampant on Germ Free Adolescents. “I know I’m artificial/ But don’t put the blame on me, she sings on the opening track, “Art-I-Ficial,” “I was reared with appliances/ In a consumer society.” On “Identity”, her attacks on the airbrushed female body image as portrayed in the media sound even more relevant today (“Do you see yourself in the magazine?/ When you see yourself/ Does it make you scream?”), while she takes a poke at youth culture on the title track (“I know you’re antiseptic/ Your deodorant smells nice”). Plus, with a name like Poly Styrene, it becomes more than obvious the lady has an obsession with modern material goods, as her songs mention synthetic products like plastic, latex, nylon, polypropylene, as well as name brands, such as Kleenex, Weetabix, and Woolworth’s.
The subject matter all seems so volatile, but it’s all brilliantly underscored by some jubilant, upbeat rock ‘n’ roll. By the time the album was recorded, Lora Logic’s charmingly amateurish saxophone had been replaced by several seasoned session musicians (Rudi Thompson would eventually be hired as a full-time member), and the constant presence of slick sax solos adds a slick sheen to the music that matches Styrene’s lyrical themes. Jak Airport’s guitar avoids the buzzsaw simplicity of Steve Jones and the reggae-infused licks of Mick Jones, instead going for classic, Chuck Berry-infused riffs, as drummer BP Hurding provides relentless four-on-the-floor drum beats throughout. Styrene’s vocal melodies effortlessly tread the line between catharsis and bubblegum, best exemplified by such songs as “Obsessed With You”, the insanely catchy “I Can’t Do Anything”, the more pensive title track, and the fantastic “The Day the World Turned Dayglo”, which boasts the same kind of retro swagger that The Cramps would perfect several years later.
However, it’s the great “Oh! Bondage Up Yours!” that remains the band’s finest moment, the passion in Styrene’s singing giving listeners chills. The song kicks off the CD’s impressive collection of bonus tracks, including the memorable B-side “I Am Cliché”, as well as two Peel sessions from 1978.
Of all the classic recordings from 1977 and 1978, Germ Free Adolescents remains one of the smartest and accessible of the lot, but as Never Mind the Bollocks and The Clash have gone on to become part of the classic rock canon, X-Ray Spex have sadly been ignored by many. Styrene would disappear from the public eye a couple years after the album came out, becoming a Hare Krishna in the early 1980s, only to resurface in 1995, releasing the Spex’s follow-up Consumer Consciousness, but it would prove to be impossible to duplicate the near-flawless debut. A record that pre-dated the ferocious, smart feminist punk of the Olympia, Washington Riot Grrrl scene of the early 1990s, it sounds especially prescient today, as our consumer culture continues to spiral out of control. As opposed to the usual crap we buy ourselves every day, this splendid reissue is truly money well spent.