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. I have recently posted a few singles (7 & 12”) and the odd bootleg which have been received very well by all who visit. More of the same will continue as you, dear readers, seem to be enjoying them.

Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs and I’m just sharing the wealth. If other bloggers out there wish to share the rips from my posts, please as I do, host them yourself. To combat this, the FLAC files that are over 6 months old will be replaced with MP3 files.

Finally I am happy to re-up old posts where the link has expired. Please comment in the relevant posts comments box.


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.

Taken from the 2001 CD re-release on EMI to MP3 @ 320kbps

Stiff Little Fingers; Inflammable Material

1.      Suspect Device
2.      State Of Emergency
3.      Here We Are Nowhere
4.      Wasted Life
5.      No More Of That
6.      Barbed Wire Love
7.      White Noise
8.      Breakout
9.      Law And Order
10.  Rough Trade
11.  Johnny Was
12.  Alternative Ulster
13.  Closed Groove
14.  Suspect Device (Single Version)
15.  78 RPM

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