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.


Teutonic Toscin (now available downsized)

A quick post, which I might consider doing more of as writing, editing and locating reviews for some of the albums I want to post, is becoming increasingly difficult. Also, any feedback on the MP3 Vs FLAC debate as I have thousands of MP3 only albums and only a small selection of FLAC (and MP3) in my collection.

Xmal Deutschland's second full-length album is a creative high point, a Teutonic marriage of Siouxsie & the Banshees, inviting Goth-pop and the majestic sonic spaces of the Cocteau Twins. Less off puttingly bleak than the quartet's earlier album, but without the unfortunate candy coating of the albums that followed, these 11 songs are precariously balanced between neo-psychedelic pop in the traditional 4AD style -- the opening "Mondlicht" would not sound out of place on a This Mortal Coil album -- and the more aggressive, artsy sound of their first EPs. The formula is clearly winning; "Incubus Succubus II," a much glossier remake of the song that first garnered attention for the group in the underground clubs, features a less tortured (but still German-language) vocal from Anja Huwe over a smooth, throbbing pulse that trades in the spiky scrappiness of the original for a clean, but not antiseptic thrust. The clash of styles actually works quite well, giving Tocsin a palpable creative tension that adds a frisson of intensity to what might otherwise be just another collection of Goth-pop tunes.


Automatic Lover (Re-upped and expanded as requested)

Were the Vibrators real punks? Maybe not, but then again, were the Stranglers? Or Eddie and the Hot Rods? Even more to the point, was Steve Jones? Plenty of rock careerists jumped onto the punk/new wave bandwagon in the wake of the Sex Pistols' success (and more than a few folks, like Jones, stumbled into the new movement by accident), but unlike most of them, the Vibrators took to the fast/loud/stripped down thing like ducks to water, and both Ian Carnarchan and Pat Collier had a genius for writing short, punchy songs with sneering melody lines and gutsy guitar breaks. If the Vibrators were into punk as a musical rather than a socio-political movement, it's obvious that they liked the music very much, and on that level their debut album stands the test of time quite well. Pure Mania boasts a bit more polish (and less politics) than many of the albums from punk's first graduating class (such as Damned Damned Damned or The Clash), but if you're looking for a strong, satisfying shot of chugging four-square punk, cue up "Yeah Yeah Yeah," "No Heart," "Petrol," or "Wrecked on You" and you'll be thrown into a frenzy. 
Maybe Pure Mania isn't purist's punk, but it's pure rock & roll, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Do you dance often? I hate dancing. I rarely get caught dancing in public, unless I’m under the influence of punk rock, where dancing is loosely interpreted. Older punk records usually go as far as getting my feet tapping, but rarely do they ever cause me to kick my chair from beneath me and twist my hips. I’ve been dancing lately, and it’s because of The Vibrators’ “Pure Mania.” Very similar to The Buzzcocks’ pop-punk flavour, The Vibrators display a mastery of hooks that would embarrass modern pop-punk bands if ever put to comparison with these punk rock veterans.
“Pure Mania” focuses on sex. What’s more important than girls? If you’re in the business of making albums, I’d recommend following The Vibrators’ formula of love ballads with ridiculously catchy beats and those vocals that will make almost every girl swoon. Why not throw in a piano and organ behind a voice yearning “Baby, baby, baby, won’t you be my girl?” Make sure you have a decent crew of backup vocalists to match your chilling “Ooooooh’s,” designed to run up a girl’s spine. They need to be solid musicians as well to achieve a similar overlay of guitars that provide a spark on top of a throbbing bass. You can try, but you probably will only get as far as succeeding as a Vibrators’ cover band. I doubt you can also match the relentless gear shifting vocals of Ian “Knox” Carnochan. His voice grinds and soothes, with recognizable resent and confidence, as he sorts through his love life. He is the ignition to The Vibrators’ aforementioned mastery of hooks and a vital supplement to the competent instrumentation that drives The Vibrators’ sound.
Once “Pure Mania” begins, you’re tapping. You’re fidgeting, you’re nodding, and you're mouthing the words. “Into the future! SEX KICK!” You sing along. Why? Because The Vibrators have got your number. After the opener “Into the Future,” the corny but undeniably amusing “Yeah Yeah Yeah” begins with a repetitive line that you can only guess given what you just learned. It gets better. Whether it’s the pounding “No Heart,” with its deep vibrations and verbal accusations of “She ain’t got no heart and no love…gonna send her off to heaven with a .38,” or “Stiff Little Fingers,” with lyrics indicting the living dead, The Vibrators create music that is legendary.
There are many songs on “Pure Mania” that qualify as compelling. With the possible exception of “I Need a Slave,” every song on “Pure Mania” will draw you in with an addictive sound. What you should consider then is that the first 13 songs of the album are stellar, catchy, and raunchy doses of punk rock. The closer “Bad Time” does not disappoint, so you can add it to the list. It also helps immensely that the entire album clocks in at just over 30 minutes. If you’ve connected the dots, you probably understand that this all means you have something new to listen to tonight.
That’s right, dancing shoes.

A Double Headed Vibrator??!!

As in their first album, V2 shows the Vibrators taking the driving energy of punk and applying it to songs that have a subtle, pop-like quality; while it does not have the wonderfully brash and itchy cohesiveness of Pure Mania; it's a solid album well worth hearing. The songs are mostly catchy and listenable, the lyrics are as capable as those in the group's previous release, and the arrangements have much more variety and colour than most punk records of the time do. "24 Hour People" sports Chuck Berry-style guitar licks and 1960s-derived backing vocals, "Public Enemy No. 1" and "Fall in Love" are less punky and more straightforward rockers, "Feel Alright" has a 1960s garage band-style chorus, and "Nazi Baby" audaciously adds strings to the fast, almost danceable music. The only really ineffective excursion on this album is "Troops of Tomorrow," a slow, menacing number that somehow gets too thick for its own good and is further marred by an excessively lengthy opening section.

However, changes were definitely on the horizon, as Old Father Time hoofed 1977 out the door. In the brave new world of 1978 when Punk looked washed up after the Pistols split, the Vibrators pulled off the enviable trick of managing to go with these changing times, by mainlining their bad style to a tacky but appealing plastic New Wave image. Authenticity was over-rated anyway: what counted in the final analysis was the noise you made and the Vibrators, resplendent in lurex and wraparound shades, bashed out a beguiling disposable Pop racket on V2. With Gary Tibbs coming into replace a Boyfriends-bound Pat Collier, the Vibrators attacked the new year with gusto.
This LP even spawned a hit single in Automatic Lover (the non-LP Judy Says also made the lower reaches of the Top 75, both sides appended to this disc), but listen to the section of Pure Mania where they chuck every audio effect imaginable on top of their standard speed Punk to make for pure 1978 listening – the speed of the hand defeating the eye, or ear in this case. The pace only really lets up on the churning drone of Troops Of Tomorrow and a slight country hue to the Sweet Jane vibe on Fall In Love. It is smart, snappy and fun, particularly the daft, semi-choral mid-section from Wake Up and Flying Duck Theory. V2 is irrepressible Pop music of the time and can tell you much more in its grooves about Britain in 1978 than any BBC4 multi-part documentary.



'Every night I thought I'd be killed'

Proof that punk was more about attitude than a raw, guitar-driven sound, Suicide's self-titled debut set the duo apart from the rest of the style's self-proclaimed outsiders. Over the course of seven songs, Martin Rev's dense, unnerving electronics -- including a menacing synth bass, a drum machine that sounds like an idling motorcycle, and harshly hypnotic organs -- and Alan Vega's ghostly, Gene Vincent-esque vocals defined the group's sound and provided the blueprints for post-punk, synth pop, and industrial rock in the process. Though those seven songs shared the same stripped-down sonic template, they also show Suicide's surprisingly wide range. The exhilarated, rebellious "Ghost Rider" and "Rocket U.S.A." capture the punk era's thrilling nihilism -- albeit in an icier way than most groups expressed it -- while "Cheree" and "Girl" counter the rest of the album's hard edges with a sensuality that's at once eerie and alluring. And with its retro bassline and simplistic, stylized lyrics, "Johnny" explores Suicide's affinity for '50s melodies and images, as well as their pop leanings. But none of this is adequate preparation for "Frankie Teardrop," one of the duo's definitive moments, and one of the most harrowing songs ever recorded. A ten-minute descent into the soul-crushing existence of a young factory worker, Rev's tense, repetitive rhythms and Vega's deadpan delivery and horrifying, almost inhuman screams make the song more literally and poetically political than the work of bands who wore their radical philosophies on their sleeves.

Even punks hated Suicide, reacting to their gigs with astonishing violence. In response, the band locked the exits so no one could flee. Jon Wilde asks them how they survived it all.

Be it headlining Glastonbury or supporting Led Zeppelin at Knebworth, most bands that have been around for close to 40 years have one unforgettable, career-defining gig. Suicide are no exception.
"That would be the show in Glasgow in 1978 when someone threw an axe at my head," says Alan Vega with admirable matter-of-factness. "We were supporting the Clash and I guess we were too punk even for the punk crowd. They hated us. I taunted them with, 'You fuckers have to live through us to get to the main band.' That's when the axe came towards my head, missing me by a whisker. It was surreal, man. I felt like I was in a 3-D John Wayne movie. But that was nothing unusual. Every Suicide show felt like world war three in those days. Every night I thought I was going to get killed. The longer it went on, the more I'd be thinking, 'Odds are it's going to be tonight.'"
Vega, now 59, is sitting with his long-time Suicide cohort Martin Rev (age undisclosed) in the reception area of an east London branch of the Holiday Inn. Vega looks wonderfully sinister in his shades and street-fighter beret. Rev, in a distressed leather jacket and visor sunglasses, looks as if he has stepped off the set of Mad Max 2. It's fair to say that they don't blend in with the blue-rinsed sightseers and Swedish language students who mingle in the foyer.
Then again, Suicide never did blend in with anything or anybody. While this helped them become one of the most reviled bands of all time, it didn't stop them becoming one of the most influential. It's Kraftwerk who get the kudos for furthering the cause of electronic music, inspiring a generation of pop and rock bands to use synthesisers. But Suicide surely merit at least equal billing. Not only were they the blueprint for every synth-and-voice duo of the 1980s, they were equally influential on the industrial music and, quite possibly, techno scenes that followed. In a tribute album to mark Vega's 60th birthday this month, the contributors' list includes Primal Scream, Peaches, Grinderman, the Horrors, the Klaxons, Julian Cope, Vincent Gallo and even long-time Suicide fan Bruce Springsteen, who donates a live version of Dream Baby Dream.
The Brooklyn-born Alan Bermowitz (Vega) and Bronx-born Martin Reverby (Rev) first met up in 1971. Vega was engaged with sculptures and far-flung electronic experiments at the Project of Living Artists, a downtown workshop funded by the New York State Council On the Arts. Rev, already a veteran of avant-jazz ensembles, wandered into the workshop to escape the torrential rain. The two hit it off and began performing together at local galleries. Their second show was entitled Punk Music Mass, which is said to have been the first time a band used the word "punk" in an official context to describe their music. The name Suicide was inspired by Satan Suicide, an issue of Vega's favourite comic book, Ghost Rider.
When Vega and Rev started making music, they were both limited and liberated by their poverty. Often starving, living on a sandwich a day between them and unable to afford proper instruments, they made their music on the one instrument available to them: Rev's $10 Wurlitzer keyboard, over which Vega would improvise.
"For a long time, we didn't have songs as such," Vega says. "So Marty would repeatedly kick his keyboard and I'd hit the microphone stand with a broken bottle or make these horrible noises come out of a trumpet. Then I graduated to screaming, and eventually that led to writing actual lyrics."
Unsurprisingly, there were few takers for Suicide's music. "People were looking to be entertained," says Vega. "But I hated the idea of going to a concert in search of fun. Our attitude was, 'Fuck you buddy, you're getting the street right back in your face. And some.' At one of our first shows, there was a guy in the audience who'd brought this trombone. I jumped into the audience, fell over and knocked the slide out of his trombone. These South Americans took real offence to that. So they immediately attacked us with chairs, tables, anything they could get their hands on. That became the norm. I started carrying a bicycle chain on stage, figuring, if you can't beat em, join em. If the violence got really bad, what I'd do was smash a bottle and start cutting my face up. That seemed to have a calming effect on the crowd. I guess they reasoned that I was so fucking nuts that nothing they could do would bother me. I figured out a way of doing it so that I drew a lot of blood but I wouldn't be scarred for life. I had it down to a fine art. Another ploy I had was to lock the exit doors so nobody could escape. That was the ultimate 'fuck you', as far as I was concerned."
Rev is nodding thoughtfully to all this. "I was convinced we were going to be as big as the Beatles," he chips in, without irony. "All the hostility we were getting did nothing to change that. Even when the violence was going on and the blood was spilling, I'd be thinking that the crowd knew we were doing something from the future. But it wasn't a future they wanted to know about. So the antagonism got stronger and stronger. The only reaction we didn't get was being attacked by wolves. But that's only because you weren't allowed to take wolves into clubs."
By 1975, Rev had acquired a 1950s drum machine, which expanded their musical possibilities exponentially. Vega had got hold of a two-track tape recorder, which enabled Suicide to make their first demos. Meanwhile, the New York music scene was being transformed by a wave of new bands (the Ramones, Television, the Patti Smith Group, Blondie, Talking Heads) performing regularly at CBGB. One by one, those bands were signed by major record labels, while Suicide continued to be conspicuously overlooked.
It wasn't until mid-1977 that Suicide finally secured a deal, with the small French label Red Star. Their eponymous debut was released the following year. Possibly the most paranoid-sounding album ever made, Suicide's seven tracks feature Vega's spluttering rockabilly vocal fighting it out against throbbing drum machines and Rev's dissonant keyboard. The album's centrepiece is the profoundly unsettling Frankie Teardrop, about a Vietnam vet who slaughters his family.
In the US, the album was greeted by howls of disgust from reviewers. European critics, however, adored it. Sensing they'd finally found an audience ready to embrace them, Vega and Rev flew to Britain to join the Clash on tour.
"We genuinely believed that we'd get a reception fit for returning war heroes," says Vega. "But it was like going from the frying-pan to the fire. The axe in Glasgow was just one of many weapons hurled at us. When we played in Metz, someone scored a direct hit on me with a monkey wrench. I've still got the scar on my head. Supporting Elvis Costello in Brussels, we provoked a full-scale riot and the venue was stormed by police letting off tear-gas canisters. Then something very strange happened. We headlined our own tour of Britain and ended up in Edinburgh. Two songs in and there was no riot, which was very, very unusual. Then we started to see people move around. I turned to Marty and said, 'Here we go - watch out for flying objects.' To my amazement, people started dancing. I turned back to Marty and said, 'We're finished, our career is over.'"
Live 1977-1978, a limited-edition, six-CD box set featuring 13 complete live Suicide sets, gives a taste of what those gigs were like. Not every live release comes with the stark warning, "These recordings are not for the fainthearted or casual fan". The Suicide gigs were recorded on cheap, handheld cassette recorders, and it's often difficult to distinguish the sound of the band from the background noise (smashing glass and bloodthirsty heckling). Stick the CDs into your computer and, faced with a choice of genre, iTunes unhesitatingly opts for "unclassifiable". Very astute, that.
After their uncomfortable introduction to Europe, Vega and Rev spent time in limbo. "Malcolm McLaren offered to manage us but he wanted to turn us into a disco outfit, so we politely declined," Rev says. Instead, they delivered a second album, also entitled Suicide, produced by Ric Ocasek of the Cars. A more polished affair, it sold in shockingly small numbers.
Vega and Rev went their separate ways. Astonishingly, for a brief period in the early 1980s Vega became a pop star in France, and won himself a deal with a major label that unsuccessfully attempted to market him as an alternative Bruce Springsteen. He has since continued to release solo albums, the latest being 2008's Station, and has supported himself by selling his sculptures, "mostly to rich Texans who don't realise there's usually a good old New York cockroach stuck on the bottom". Rev, meanwhile, has eked out an even more precarious living by releasing the occasional solo album, producing small-time bands, or playing sessions with obscure electronic outfits.
From time to time, Vega and Rev have reunited for a Suicide tour or album. You sense they miss the days when dodging axes and monkey wrenches was simply part of the job.
"I guess we're a historical act now," asks Vega. "We've turned into fucking entertainers. It was never meant to turn out that way. But what can you do? People are completely unshockable now. Even if you brought a fresh corpse out on stage and started eating it with a fork, no one would bat an eyelid. Still, one of the things about playing live these days is that at least we know we're not going to die on stage. That's kinda nice, man."

Speaking And Spelling

Though probably nobody fully appreciated it at the time (perhaps least of all the band!) Depeche Mode's debut is at once both a conservative, functional pop record and a ground breaking release. While various synth pioneers had come before -- Gary Numan, early Human League, late-'70s Euro-disco, and above all Kraftwerk all had clear influence on Speak And Spell -- Depeche became the undisputed founder of straight-up synth pop with the album's 11 songs, light, hooky, and danceable numbers about love, life, and clubs. For all the claims about "dated" '80s sounds from rock purists, it should be noted that the basic guitar/bass/drums line up of rock is almost 25 years older than the catchy keyboard lines and electronic drums making the music here. That such a sound would eventually become ubiquitous during the Reagan years, spawning lots of crud along the way, means the band should no more be held to blame for that than Motown and the Beatles for inspiring lots of bad stuff in the '60s. Credit for the album's success has to go to main songwriter Vince Clarke, who would extend and arguably perfect the synth pop formula with Yazoo and Erasure; the classic early singles "New Life," "Dreaming of Me," and "Just Can't Get Enough," along with numbers like the moody thumper "Photographic," keep everything moving throughout. David Gahan under sings about half the album, and Martin Gore's two numbers lack the distinctiveness of his later work, but Speak And Spell remains an undiluted joy.

At the time, no-one could envisage anything of the kind, and Depeche Mode was little more than a new and charming addition to the fast-growing synth-pop genre. One must recall, I think, that back in 1981 good pop hits were the rule rather than the exception, and that there was no shame in producing them. And however quaint this sounds today, at the time, like most synth pop, it was fresh and exciting. “New Life” sounded terrific on the radio, one of the best hits of the year, and still a firm favourite of mine.
That nothing else here measures up to that breakthrough hit is neither here nor there, for these are still pretty accomplished pop songs. There’s not much point in digging beneath the surface, but then Speak And Spell hardly set itself up as anything but a pop album, albeit early enough in the day for the instrumentation to sound exotic and futuristic. If the twisted, tormented, tortured Mode of the nineties would come closer to being “real artists” (whatever that is), there’s something to be said for the early incarnation that wanted to muck about, have a good time and, hopefully, get on Top of the Pops.
And yet even that’s unfair, for there are hints of things lurking beneath the surface; it’s just that no-one has worked out quite where to go with them. So there’s an ambivalent feel to “Photographic”, a vaguely prophetic, celebratory dystopianism, but they were all at that kind of thing in those days. Unsurprisingly, the Martin Gore composition “Tora! Tora! Tora!” comes closest to the future direction of Depeche Mode with its Numanesque air of being lost to forces beyond mortal control.
And in retrospect, Speak And Spell is more of a dry run for Yazoo than for the future Depeche Mode – what are “Boys Say Go!” and “Nodisco” if not prototypes for “Situation” and “Don’t Go”? What is fun here became more interesting when Vince Clark teamed up with someone in Alison Moyet who was capable of countering the artificiality of the electronics with bluesy humanity through her vocals.
At any rate, you underestimate the influence of this LP at your peril. Stuff like this made large numbers of boys just entering their teenage years badger their parents to buy them a synthesizer for Christmas. Even an earworm the size of Brazil like “Just Can’t Get Enough” has stood the test of time surprisingly well. I’m sure you can get enough of it, but I haven’t. At least not yet.


Happy Birthday Joe

A quick repost and upgrade to FLAC here to celebrate the life of Joe Strummer, a huge influence in my life, who was born on this day in 1952. He left behind a legacy that included more than just his words and melodies in The Clash. His solo albums, not including his posthumous, dare I say, masterpiece, Streetcore, are also works of art that are often unnoticed and rarely listened to. One such album is Earthquake Weather, which, as the title implies, lives in Los Angeles (where it was recorded) but is dreaming of the Bayou.
The album is hard for a casual Clash fan to swallow at first. Released in 1989, nearly a decade since the demise of the Clash, Strummer pushes his musical acumen towards the synergy of the 1980 masterpiece Sandinista!, which is still being sorted out by fans in a love-it-or-hate-it fashion. The further Strummer pushed towards this, the faster casual fans tuned out. Earthquake Weather would be lost in the haze of the early 1990s.
But I argue that this album, along with Walker (1987), Rock Art and the X-Ray Style (1999), and Global A-Go-Go (2001), Earthquake Weather is not only a hidden force of rock music lost in the decadence of the 1980s but also smart, crafty experiment which – like Sandinista! has its moments, but overall transports the listener to its time and beyond.

Earthquake Weather is Joe Strummer's first official solo album after the breakup of the Clash, discounting his soundtrack for Walker. That it's nearly a disappointment, but manages to rise above its flaws, is a testament to Strummer's pedigree and abilities. Strummer sticks to his usual stylistic proclivities, touching on dub reggae, mournful folk, and rock stompers. The album has its share of delightful highlights. The fast-paced, eclectic "Gangsterville" and "King of the Bayou" blend dub and rock jams effortlessly, with Strummer's confident voice echoing over bombastic backing revelry. "Island Hopping" slows things down, its tropical folk charm foreshadowing the mature, optimistic route Strummer would adhere more faithfully to with Global a Go-Go. "Leopardskin Limousines" and album closer "Sleepwalk" both bristle with emotion, thanks to a tasteful Spanish guitar, an interesting choppy rhythm effect, and hushed vocal processing on the former and the latter's subtle, graceful pace. Outside of these highlights, the remaining songs are quite passable and enjoyable, even though there's a sense that Strummer went into Earthquake Weather with an incomplete blueprint. Lonnie Marshall's bass playing frequently recalls Flea's tackier funk excursions, wailing guitar solos appear haphazardly, and, too often, Willie MacNeil's drums are too quiet in the mix to allow for the necessary dynamic punch, and there's a sense that Strummer was just a step or two away from going a cheesy world beat route at times. If these flaws keep the album from greatness, at least Strummer's voice and songwriting are engaging enough throughout the 14 songs that there's never a second where things come off as dated or rushed. Indeed, the flaws reside only in elements that add texture and flare, so they're somewhat easily ignored, especially since the production is so layered and there's so much going on in each song. Earthquake Weather is a solid, fascinating album, mostly because of Joe Strummer's always fiery charisma, his impeccable vocals, and his mostly unerring musical exploration and experimentation. Even when Strummer occasionally goes wrong stylistically, his conviction is too winning and his passion for music too strong to allow him to turn in a subpar performance.

Lost Angeles

Another classic re-up that I've wanted to re share with a bit added on the side...

By the late '70s, punk rock and hardcore were infiltrating the Los Angeles music scene. Such bands as Black Flag, the Germs, and, especially, X were the leaders of the pack, prompting an avalanche of copycat bands and eventually signing record contracts themselves. X's debut, Los Angeles, is considered by many to be one of punk's all-time finest recordings, and with good reason. Most punk bands used their musical inability to create their own style, but X actually consisted of some truly gifted musicians, including rockabilly guitarist Billy Zoom, bassist John Doe, and front woman Exene Cervenka, who, with Doe, penned poetic lyrics and perfected sweet yet biting vocal harmonies. Los Angeles is prime X, offering such all-time classics as the venomous "Your Phone's Off the Hook, but You're Not," a tale of date rape called "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene," and two of their best anthems (and enduring concert favourites), "Nausea" and the title track. While they were tagged as a punk rock act from the get-go (many felt that this eventually proved a hindrance), X are not easily categorized. Although they utilize elements of punk's frenzy and electricity, they also add country, ballads, and rockabilly to the mix.

There are a couple of times during "The Decline Of Western Civilization", Penelope Spheeris' 1980 documentary on L.A. punk, where you realize that X aren't really like the other bands that made up that scene. The first is during an interview with Exene where Spheeris notices a bouquet of roses behind her and asks Exene where she got them. "The Whiskey sent them." she replied "They like us. They do better business when we play there." Apart from maybe for a funeral, I'm pretty sure that nobody from Black Flag, Circle Jerks or Fear were ever sent flowers from any club owners.
The other comes during a short explanation of the song "We're Desperate" (from second album "Wild Gift"). Exene says "There's going to come a time when we play this song and people are gonna think "sure, they're desperate. I just paid $6 to see this band… they're not desperate"" and then adds almost embarrassedly "There are other ways of being desperate than being poor"
Both examples are telling as it shows that X, even though they were connected to that scene, were not like other prominent L.A. punk bands like Black Flag. They were co-operative. Their approach was more professional, with the punk ethos being less a style and more about making music that was direct and honest. It was obvious that they were taking their careers and the music that they made seriously. While other bands were pursuing the proto-aggro side of punk with hardcore, X went in the Americana direction with revved-up surf, roots and rockabilly riffs. They had much more in common musically with bands like The Blasters and Rank n' File than with the Circle Jerks.
Of all the punk debut albums that were released during that 1980-1982 period, X's "Los Angeles" was easily the most accomplished of the crop. Even though they were slammed for doing something as unpunk as having ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek producing (plus adding keys); he was able to have the band keep that balance between the raw and the cooked. It also didn't hurt that X had brought a great batch of tunes to the table. All eight originals are keepers, with "Johnny Hit And Run Paulene", "Nausea", The World's A Mess, It's In My Kiss" and the title track being standouts. Also, their cover of The Doors' "Soul Kitchen" is better than it has any right to be.
What can't be denied is the band's chemistry. Be it Exene and John Doe's harmonizing, Billy Zoom's hyperbilly riffing or DJ Bonebreak's rocksteady drumming; it all fits together perfectly. 
Debating whether or not X or this album is "punk" enough is irrelevant; "Los Angeles" is a classic no matter how you slice it.



In July 1996, Tom Engelshoven of Dutch music magazine Oor described Jeffrey Lee Pierce as the missing link between the Eagles and Kurt Cobain. Four months after the Gun Club frontman had passed away, the article labelled him as the true victim of what Engelshoven interpreted as "the American disease." Among the symptoms were a strong identification with violence and death and a clear notion of American society being imbued with it. Pierce's lyrics testified of his awareness of America's earliest history, a nation established at the barrel of a gun. Obsessed with an inevitable apocalyptic destiny, he took his lowlife background as an explanation for a feverish longing for decay. Sex, booze, and drugs all claimed their share in a self-destructive lifestyle, culminating in an early death at the age of 37. Wildweed was the first of two solo albums Pierce made in between his Gun Club albums. Following in the footsteps of remarkable statements like Miami and The Las Vegas Story, the material presented here isn't all that different. The violence theme practically drips from the album cover, depicting Pierce with a dreamy look and a shotgun slung over his shoulder. Standing amidst what could be the last true vestige of an unspoiled, rural America, it's a fair bet that he's ready to shoot anything even slightly disturbing, upon which he probably will utter one final howl before putting himself "to rest" as well. Plenty of those howls are scattered through Wildweed, which opens with a strong threesome of "Love and Desperation," "Sex Killer," and "Cleopatra Dreams On." In more than one way, "Love and Desperation" is the twin to The Fire of Love's "Sex Beat." Apart from the infectious driving beat, one only has to compare the lyrics of the latter ("I, I know your reasons/And I, I know your goals/We can fuck forever/But you will never get my soul") to the former ("Somebody hurts you, so you hurt me/So I hurt somebody else, who I have never seen/Who hurts somebody else, way on down the road/Who hurts somebody else who goes on home/With you") to conclude that Pierce's world is one in which love takes a wrong turn most of the time. Halfway through the album things get a little awkward when, during the nursery rhyme of "Hey Juana," Pierce starts name-checking a colleague ("Now Nick the Cave/He spent all his pay/On a bottle of gin/And a shark without a fin"). Luckily, "The Midnight Promise" makes a beautiful closing piece. Alas, the CD release of Wildweed adds some extra tracks that appeared on the Love and Desperation 12" instead of the more intriguing experiments with spoken word from the 7" bonus that came with the album or the free jazz of the title track of the Flamingo EP.

Recorded in London in 1985, this is Pierce’s most poppy and new wavey record. Craig Leon, whose production credits by this point included such classics as the first albums of both The Ramones and Suicide, does some pretty slick work. While Pierce handles all of his guitars for the first time, his studio band includes drummer Andy Anderson who just departed from The Cure and John MacKinzie who was between Wham! sessions. The highpoint is the added bonus tracks - the experimental poems and songs from the seven-inch that accompanied the original LP.
The eerie cover, picturing Pierce in black and white, staring into the distance with a shotgun slung over his shoulder, gives as much of an indication of the thematic material inside as much as the session musicians do the musical material. While the polished music could use a little grit at times, the lyrics are the opposite. While Pierce continues to sing about some of his favourite themes - murder, sex, pain, failure, debauchery, drugs, and prostitution, the murder part of the equation is accentuated.
The first song, “Love and Desperation,” displays Pierce’s significant progress as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist - containing a few of his best lines. Starting out almost as if it is might become a no-wavey Contortions type of song, “Love and Desperation” quickly moves into its pop/ska foundation. Pierce’s guitar solo, while showcasing his ability, contains no small amount of cheese. “Sex Killer” is a beat oriented 1980s pop number whose title gives away the subject matter. “Cleopatra Dreams On” is almost R.E.M.-ish but contains some of Pierce’s best Television-style guitar lines. With its walking bass, “Sensitivity” is jazzy and interesting despite the production. Just in case you were confused about Pierce singing a song about this subject, the chorus is: “Sensitivity is not in you and not in me.”
Next, the rootsy “Hey Juna” picks up the pace with another walking bass line and big ghostly production. The lyrics, sung in English, Japanese, and Spanish, phrased and themed in the style of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” mention Baby Romi (Mori, his girlfriend at the time), Murray the Man (Mitchell, a friend from the Fur Bible and Siouxsie and the Banshees), Kid the Squid (Congo Powers, best friend and Gun Club band-mate), and Nick the Cave (I’ll let you guess this one). Asking, “is it uptown or down… yellow, black or brown… Chinatown or funkytown?”, the INXS new wave “Love Circus” declares, “we haven't seen anyone dead like you / since a war was near.” As Pierce concludes “you got a price that is not so nice / you got demise written on your mind,” one can’t help but wonder if the singer was directing these lines at himself. “Wildweed,” the punk number on the record, is the story of a man who kills his wife and children so he can no longer hurt them. Not “The Stranger,” the protagonist sets the house on fire and heads to Mexico. While the song suffers a bit from the sterile production, Pierce’s spazzy solo deserves special praise. With “The Midnight Promise,” Pierce ends the album as he began it – with a Jamaican-tinged pop song. The chorus is very Television, or even, The Las Vegas Story. In addition to perhaps the best music here, “The Midnight Promise” also contains some Pierces most interesting and perverse imagery (“your breath on the window rings the note/ you’re always coughing from the smoke and hatching children in your throat”). This one is about an East Village junkie prostitute. The only hitch is that the guitar, played a bit like Tom Verlaine, somehow comes off like a cross between late-period David Gilmour and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Pierce redeems himself at the ending as the song fades into a solo acoustic Mississippi John Hurt style instrumental part.
The most interesting part of the CD is the bonus tracks. “Open the Door Osris” is a Burroughsy poem accompanied by a rough almost jazzy flute. “The Fertility Goddess” is all spoken word delivered a bit like Ed Sanders. The fertility goddess, as it turns out, is a speedfreak (“I know she’s been awake for weeks… her skin a grey corpse banner – the flag for all of the amphetamine nations of the world”). “Portrait of the Artist in Hell” is a free jazz punk rock number with insane feedback and screaming. “Chris and Maggie Meet Blind Willie Johnson at a James Brown Concert” is, as promised, a conversation over, as promised, a James Brown groove.
There are a number of good songs and good ideas here. I think my problem is primarily the production. But for those who like the eighties pop and new wave sounds, I would recommend this. This of course is also a must for rabid Gun Club enthusiasts.


Do Animals Believe In God? (Re-Upped)

Jayne Casey's post-Big in Japan endeavour, Pink Military, was quickly snapped up by Virgin after critical accolades showered their 1979 12” single "Blood and Lipstick." Nearly a year later, and sporting a new rhythm section, Pink Military released the wonderfully moody Do Animals Believe in God?. The album would become both their debut effort and swan song. Alternative beats which border on darkwave inform much of this set, and Casey keeps the mood sweet and melancholy, but imbues the songs with an edge that barely conceals her sharper points. This works to wonderful effect on many of the songs, but most especially on "I Cry," which crossed U.K. post-punk ethics with a smidgen of Nico and a little Rocky Horror Picture Show thrown in for kicks. "Did You See Her?," the album's lone single, keeps the vocal range low but brightens the vibe with some light-hearted synth. Elsewhere, the band continues to shine on "Back on the London Stage," as well as on the dramatic title track; sung, incidentally, by an unidentified band member. Pink Military only falters when they step into the more experimental waters of "Living in a Jungle" and "War Games." Sadly, this wonderful album fared poorly, leaving Casey to regroup and redefine the band's dimension, burying Pink Military and giving birth to the new era of Pink Industry in 1982.

One upon a time, a striking young lady named Jayne Casey, together with her brood of mates, would become one of the first gaggle of youths which would fly the fundamental flag of the 'new wave' in the City of Liverpool in the mid to late 1970s. Already tuned in to what was happening regarding new music and styles from New York-past and present, Casey was ready to open eyes and ears- as well as ruffling the feathers of many a passer-by in the city centre with her creative and outrageous flair in clothes, hair and make-up.
She formed Pink Military (originally named Pink Military Stands Alone) after the disintegration of one of Liverpool's most notorious 'Punk' bands, Big In Japan, who collapsed under the weight of its motley bunch of characters in 1978. Holly Johnson, Bill Drummond, Ian Broudie and Budgie- would seem to find their own separate channels and reap the rewards soon afterwards.
Casey was always 'on the ball' as regards new ideas and directions, but has never been fairly championed as someone who possessed spot-on talent and insight into the many things she has been involved in and contributed to, over the years.

When you think of it, there weren't that many female personalities in 'the scene' in Liverpool at the time and Casey didn't have the equivalent bolstering back-up that Siouxsie Sioux had in London for example, what with the Slits, Polystyrene, not to mention the likes of auntie Westwood.
However, she battled on...


Getting Nowhere Fast

Classic Re-Up of an album that fell through the cracks and needs to be heard if you're a fan of New Wave/Post Punk

Girls At Our Best emerged from the Leeds punk scene in 1979 and were frankly responsible for some of the finest post punk pop of the era; featuring, oddly enough, a pre-fame Thomas Dolby here and there on keyboards. Girls At Our Best's sole album, Pleasure, is an underrated delight, tempering the sometimes harsh edge of the earliest singles to an equally passionate and entertaining approach not afraid to be calm here and there. The quartet touched on everything from the Banshees' arty edge to Gang of Four aggro-funk and full-on power pop catchiness, and did so brilliantly. Jo Evans' voice was at its considerable best at many points; sometimes so light that it was hard to catch what was being sung, but often able to deliver her sometimes wry, sometimes sunny, but always smart sentiments just right. Excellent as it was, Pleasure doesn't have the band's defining moment, the absolutely brilliant début single "Getting Nowhere Fast," which sounds equally as fresh now as it did back then; that opening harsh nagging riff, the descending looping bass giving way to swirling guitars that hints at early Banshees – this is short, spikey pop complete with Jo Evans ever so imperfect vocal delivery about trading your life for a replacement. Sharp, short, and perfectly catchy down to its sudden edit ending two minutes in, it's one of the highlights of turn of the '80s Brit rock. 

The group initially consisted of vocalist Judy "Jo" Evans, guitarist James "Jez" Alan, bassist Gerard "Terry" Swift, and drummer Chris Oldroyd. The band took its name from a line in their track "Warm Girls", which first appeared on their 1980 début single "Getting Nowhere Fast" on their own Record Records, and was followed up by their second single, "Politics" c/w "It's Fashion!”. Oldroyd departed to join Music for Pleasure, and was replaced by Darren Carl Harper before the next single, "Go for Gold" c/w "I'm Beautiful Now" on Happy Birthday Records, which was their biggest indie chart hit. The group released their album, Pleasure, the first to be released on the Happy Birthday label, and reached No. 2 on the indie chart and No. 60 on the UK Album Chart. The band's fourth and final single, "Fast Boyfriends" c/w "This Train", was released later that same year.

Debate still rumbles on as to whether Jo could actually sing, certainly in the accepted sugar coated manufactured pop environment they preceded her voice, the band weren’t perfect, but aren’t the imperfections the things that make great pop music?

Horse Rotor Vator

The title Horse Rotorvator is explained in the liner notes as a device large enough to "plough up the waiting world," created from the jawbones of the horses of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Bay City Rollers this isn't. On the group's second full album, Coil continue the refinement of brute noise and creepily serene arrangements into a truly modern psychedelia, from tribal drumming and death march guitars to disturbing samples and marching band samples and back. John Balance shares the same haggard, mystic vocal delivery common to fellow explorers of the edge like David Tibet and Edward Ka-Spel, but he has his own blasted and burnt touch to it all. His lyrical subjects range from emotional extremism of many kinds to blunt, often homoerotic imagery (matched at points in the artwork and packaging) and meditations on death. As a result the cover of Leonard Cohen's "Who by Fire" isn't as surprising as one might think. Previous guest Marc Almond appears again on the track with backing vocals, as well as adding them to "Slur," which is composed of an unsettling mix of harmonica, bells, percussion and whatever else can be imagined. Other guests include Almond's then-musical partner Billy McGee, adding a haunting, sometimes grating, string arrangement to "Ostia," which is about the murder of radical Italian filmmaker Pasolini, and Clint Ruin, aka Foetus, adding his typically warped brass touches to "Circles of Mania." Paul Vaughan narrates the lyrics on "The Golden Section," creating a stunning piece that in its combination of demonic imagery and sweeping, cinematic arrangements holds a common ground with In the Nursery. All the guests help contribute to the album's overall effect, but this is Coil's own vision above all else, eschewing easy clichés on all fronts to create unnerving, never easily digested invocations of musical power.

What surprises me, though, is how small the 80's era of Coil is, in terms of material. In spite of all this, my favourite Coil record might just be from their 80's era, before they'd turn to more ambient, abstract and experimental ventures. That would be Horse Rotorvator, a concept album that's apparently about a world-destroying device of the same name, made out of the jawbones of the Four Horsemen's horses.
The first thing to go over is the music, since it's the hardest to describe: Coil may have not dabbled in industrial music for very long, but Horse Rotorvator isn't any less than that; in fact, it's the most industrial that the group ever got... well, its first half is. See, even if this era consists mostly of "Sex", there is still "Death", and that's what sticks out in tracks 7-12; the number are a lot more atmospheric and sombre, with "Circles of Mania" (fittingly the most manic number on the album, driven by a screwed up brass section and an absolutely insane vocal part).
Truth be told, those songs are all excellent. Even the bonus track "Ravenous", which was only added to the record on CD releases, fits perfectly thanks to its hellish mood, based on low synthesized voices and further punctuated by a screwed up, chaotic guitar line, a harmonica part, and sound effects ranging from elephant calls to the stomping of horses. There's also "Blood From The Air"; I consider it the weakest track on here, but it's still very cool thanks to the weird assortment of effects that appear throughout, along with the already strong melody that lays the foundation for the song.
The last three tracks are much more memorable, however: "Who By Fire" is, very interestingly, a cover of a song by folk musician Leonard Cohen. I have yet to listen to the original track, but I do see the folk elements stick out (especially in terms of structure), and the translation from that genre into industrial is very well done. "The Golden Section", in the meantime, justifies its 6-minute length thanks to the combination of a marching band drum line, string and brass arrangements, and synthesized voices (as in "Ravenous"), along with a spoken narration that talks about Azrael, the Angel of Death. It's definitely intriguing.
The album closes with "The First Five Minutes After Death", and much like "Ravenous", it wins out thanks to the amazing atmosphere it creates, even if the high brass(?) line seems more like it's noodling rather than making a coherent melody. Much like the previous five tracks, it's nothing I would recommend to everyone on the planet, including their 2-year old children and grandparents, but these 6 songs already make Horse Rotorvator a masterpiece of the industrial genre, recommended for any fan. So, in that case, why do I think it's Coil's best record?
Well, the first six songs are fucking amazing, and they make up the most visceral, hilarious and terrifying 22 minutes that the group has ever committed to a slab of vinyl or polycarbonate plastic. They're at their most provocative without resorting to drone or anything easy of the sort, and they handle their intentionally "comedic" approach in such a way that you totally believe what they're saying. If you don't count the short "Babylero" and "Herald", which simply serve as (effective) transitions, then all four of the songs are classics, and among Coil's best.
The album opens with "The Anal Staircase", a scary opening tune made especially incredible because the one semblance of a main melody (I believe it's a sample, but I'm not even sure) is located in the background of the song, with all of the percussion, effects and vocals in front. Add to that all of the voice clips, and the track perfectly depicts some kind of demonic staircase of torment, perversion and sexual catharsis, down to the strange sample that ends the song. It's followed by "Slur", which seems even more circular in nature, in that it sounds like it keeps spinning round and round; the most memorable part of it is the elephantine melody; everything else seems to be lost in the glorious chaos.
Guess what? Those aren't even the best tracks. No, I saved the best for last: Horse Rotorvator has the chance to host two huge centrepieces, both of which capture best most of the group's ideology. The first, "Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)", is an irresistibly sombre tune, driven by a sharp strings arrangement and a keyboard line with the same type of coldness and precision as ancient Greek architecture, dedicated to Pier Paolo Pasolini, a highly controversial film director who was murdered on the beach at Ostia, a neighbourhood in Rome. I'd even dare say this is Coil's most striking exploration of the subject of death.
And yet, this is still not the best cut on here. Nope. That would be "Penetralia", my favourite Coil song, period. It's got no lyrics: the most we get are some unintelligible vocal samples. What you get is the most powerful and angry industrial song ever made. Nothing that Nine Inch Nails, Ministry or even fucking Swans have put out comes close to demonstrating such fury and crushing force as what the drum machines and the brass lines manage to create in this song. What shocks me the most is that Coil don't really aim for emotion or anger, and yet, "Penetralia" brings up a more powerful emotion in me than most of my music library, capturing both the pure, primal energy of sex and the absolute menace of death.
Now, with that out of my system, you got no reason not to check out Horse Rotorvator if you want to get into either Coil or industrial music: by both the group and the genre's standards, it's pretty accessible, and even if you don't get into the first half, the second holds tons of goodies for those who pay attention and serves as an excellent introduction into the rest of Coil's very, very large discography.
You can't go wrong with this one


Yet Another Girl…

The Only Ones were a band that became identified with the British punk scene largely because leader Peter Perrett had a funny voice and could write a great straightforward rock & roll song at a time when such virtues were possessed almost exclusively by the faster-and-louder brigade. This helps explain why the Only Ones' self-titled debut album is regarded as a classic of the first wave of U.K. punk despite the presence of the midtempo jazz-accented "Breaking Down"; the '50s pop moves of the opening cut, "The Whole of the Law"; "The Beast," which sounds like some sort of lethargic neo-boogie; and the graceful semi-acoustic semi-samba "No Peace for the Wicked." Of course, when the Only Ones felt like rocking out, they did it brilliantly, and along with the instant classic "Another Girl, Another Planet," this album includes the sinister but rollicking "City of Fun" and the feedback-drenched crunch of "The Immoral Story," which points to another factor that made the Only Ones heroes in their day - their eclecticism was rooted in a genuine talent for embracing different sounds rather than the inability to pick a style and master it. Perrett and his bandmates -- John Perry on guitar, Alan Mair on bass, and Mike Kellie on drums - sound like a tight and imaginative combo even when they're surrounded by keyboard and horn overdubs, and Perrett's tales of one guy's search for love and coherence in a fractured world are intelligent, witty, and deeply cutting at all times. If the creative ambition of the Only Ones sometimes comes at the price of a tight stylistic focus that would make these songs cohere better, every track is memorable in its own way, and these ten songs always have heart, soul, and honesty to spare - and if that isn't always the benchmark of punk rock, it's at least in the neighbourhood.

Emerging in the early 1970's as a fledgling Dylan-soundalike out of north London, Peter Perrett, a promising young songwriter/drop-out, formed his first band, England's Glory. In 1973, they recorded an album's worth of demos and handed acetates of these to various record labels, all of whom said no thank you. England's Glory fell apart and Peter honed his songwriting ability, passing the next three years in a haze of drugs, folk clubs and thwarted ambition. Until the punk rock clarion-call came and everything changed. The time had finally arrived and Peter's bubbling talent was ready to explode. Recruiting three veteran musicians: John Perry on lead guitar, Mike Kellie (formerly of prog-rock group Spooky Tooth) on drums and Alan Mair (who had featured in umpteen Scottish pop bands down the years) on bass, Perrett called them The Only Ones, proudly announcing from the very start that this band would be a one-off.
During 1977 they issued their debut single, Lovers Of Today on their own DIY label, Vengeance Records. It quickly became a collector’s item, receiving much critical acclaim and as a result, a bevy of major labels came swooning to their side. CBS emerged as the prize-winners. And so to June 1978 and the release of their amazing first album, titled simply The Only Ones. Stuffed full of very strong songs and was curiously old-fashioned (for the most part), in the punk rock climate. It has worn very well and boasts at least four of the best songs Peter Perrett would ever write.
Another Girl, Another Planet - the most famous and successful song of Perrett’s fractured and intermittent career, its reputation as a true classic, featured on all the Best Of Punk compilations, the critics fave rave etc., is quite genuine. Sexy, razor-like guitars stutter and pop, followed by a weird frightening sound which rushes up to the foreground like a demented monster, before settling down momentarily into the main rhythm, drums splashing an agreeable tom-tom-ride-cymbal wash and John Perrys fabulous guitar-lines. At which point, Peter Perrett's charismatic voice enters the fray with this stunning first line: 'I always flirt with death, I look ill but I don’t care about it' double-tracked on the choruses. The gaunt wastrel proclaims his love: 'I think I'm on another world with you, I'm on another planet with you.' John Perrys elegant but powerful guitar solo will be talked about for as long as people enjoy music, a high-octane rush of pure joy. 'Space travel's in my blood, there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it, long journeys wear me out, but I know can’t live without it' Is he singing about a galactic peregrination, or about his heroin addiction? Musically, the melody of Another Girl, Another Planet is very similar to a Vibrators single, We Vibrate, released on RAK records in 1977. Has anyone else noticed this? Whatever, Another Girl is one of the great tracks from the New Wave.
At the end of side 1 we have The Beast, a track as monolithic as its title suggests. Beginning with gentle guitar strokes, ticking cow-bell and some dexterous bass-runs, it is the big confessional on the album, a warning to the kids: 'Don’t touch heroin! It’ll fuck you up!'
John Perry plays a memorable, melodramatic riff prior to Perret's devastating vocal: 'run from the beast, there's danger in his eyes. He's been looking for you for a long time, you might think this is funny, but I'm not laughing, I know that it couldn't happen to me.' The song is fantastic, a ghoulish, marauding epic, vividly relaying real feelings, and real regret. 'Out in the street the modern vampire prowls, he's been spreading disease all around, there’s an epidemic, if you don’t believe me, you ought to take a look at the eyes of your friends, when someone tempts you, you can’t refuse.' The instruments get louder, it builds and builds, than falls away to its previous ghostly calm, and Perrett's parting shot: 'I've tried to show you your whole life in print, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, think about it! All you gotta do is think about it, there's no cure.' Now the others take over with a powerhouse of ensemble playing, aided by an over-dubbed brass-section subtly placed in the mix. Drums and guitar fight it out in an explosion of excitement, with the incendiary guitar of John Perry emerging as the winner.
Alright, It's okay, I've calmed down now, phew!

I Can't Escape

Despite the production's rough edges, the limited budget that fostered it, and the feeling that it sounds more like several A-sides and a couple decent B-sides thrown together than a singular body, Jeopardy is a caustic jolt of a debut that startles and fascinates. With the plaintive intro of the rhythm section, a spidery guitar, and incidental synth wobbles (which all sounds surprisingly Neu!-like), "I Can't Escape Myself" begins the album unassumingly enough until reaching the terse, one-line chorus that echoes the title of the song; suddenly, from out of the blue, all the instruments make a quick, violent, collective stab and retreat back into the following verse as singer Adrian Borland catches his breath. The reverb placed on his voice is heightened at just the right moments to exacerbate the song's claustrophobic slant. The ecstatic onward rush of "Heartland" forms the back end of a dynamic one-two opening punch, with a charging rhythm and blaring keyboards leading the way. It seems to be the spawn of XTC and U2, just as giddy as something from the former (think Go 2) and almost as anthemic as something from the latter (think Boy). Much later on, near the end, "Unwritten Law" comes along as one of The Sound's best mid-tempo mood pieces -- one of their greatest strengths. It also shows how much a simple shading of synth can affect a song, as it affects it with a melancholic smear that no other instrument could possibly provide. In all honesty, they weren't breaking any new ground here. Their influences were just as apparent as the ones donned by the other bands who inhabited similar post-punk territory. Smart journalists of the time (meaning the ones who truly listened and were aware of the band's past) knew well enough that The Sound belonged in the same league as the bands they were compared to and not somewhere in the bushes. Hardly coattail jockeying, The Sound were developing and growing alongside them. If you're thinking that this sounds like someone's telling you that you need Jeopardy just as much as you need Kilimanjaro or Unknown Pleasures or Crocodiles, you're right again. 

Jeopardy is THE album missing from your music collection.

Making such a bold claim banks on two assumptions, which I’ll come clean about right now. First, that you don’t already own Jeopardy. I assume this because, in the transition from a historical moment to a musical canon, the sad reality is that some bands, good as they may be, get left by the wayside. This unfortunate fate has most certainly befallen The Sound. Though they signed in 1980 to Korova Records (the very same major label which also housed Echo and the Bunnymen, with whom they also share a sonic likeness) they would hardly enjoy the same fame. Their cult status in England never translated into any notoriety on American shores; they remain unknown even by rabid new wave and post-punk fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Such a tragic tale only goes to show that, in the world of music, there most certainly no justice.
My second assumption is arguably one based on taste, but for anyone interested in how punk got to be post punk got to be new wave got to be ‘80s synth pop, Jeopardy is a critical piece of the puzzle. Nestled in that moment before what has become the signature ‘80s Euro sound was full-on explode, The Sound find musical cousins in the Cure, the Fall, the Gang of Four, Joy Division, and the Psychedelic Furs. Pretty good company, right? Now ask me again why you don’t already know about this band.
Jeopardy is the band’s debut release; it bursts with fresh energy while also maintaining a startling maturity and skill. These are songs that haunt, blaze, rip, and govern, sometimes within the same moment. Oh, their elements: the guitars twitch like an itchy trigger finger, the vocals teem with fury and fire, the bass like a controlled nuclear reaction, keyboards always at the perfect colour, whether dark or luminescent. In addition to the original material from the 1980 release, this particular reissue also contains tracks from rare live Instinct EP recorded in London in 1981.
“I Can’t Escape Myself,” the album’s opener, is an intensely dramatic, mesmerizing number. The characteristic quickfire bass and upbeat drum kicks start almost inaudibly and rise like smoke filling a closed room. Guitar agitates in unison with the drums. Then singer/guitarist Adrian Borland begins: “So many feelings/ Pent up in here/ Left alone, I’m with/ The one I most fear.” His paranoia intensifies across the verse, until the theatrical interjection of the chorus. Borland drips “I can’t escape myself,” as it’s echoed, in screams and guitar jabs, in the background. But this is a brief, Kafkaesque release. Even the closing of the song offers no real exit, Borland singing his final “escape myself” over the relentless bass, both of which cut out abruptly.
“Heartland”, the agile punk race which follows, is far more optimistic—blusteringly lively, indeed a “chemistry of commotion and style,” as the lyrics astutely note. Midway through is a genius guitar solo that recalls Richard Hell or Tom Verlaine, and the whole thing is overlain with a keyboard zing that nimbly dances across unexpected note progressions.
The exchange between “I Can’t Escape Myself” and “Heartland” is characteristic of the album writ large—brooding suspicion followed up by amphetamine-y mania. (Is it really a surprise that the band was beset by drug addictions and internally and externally imposed turmoil?) “Words Fail Me”, The Sound’s version of a “love song,” is as curious and angular as you’d expect from someone as anxiety-ridden and troubled as Borland comes off as being. It pops with horns and jumps with desperation, guitar rapid-firing a single note throughout the vocal acrobatics of the chorus. The melodramatic and shadowy “Missiles” follows and it could not be more of a departure. “Who the hell makes those missiles/ When we know what they can do?” Borland implores. Whether located in the government or in the depths of their own collective consciousness, the world is filled with forces beyond The Sound’s control.
All this, and I haven’t even touched the album’s best tracks: the roller-coasting “Heyday” and asymmetrical, supernatural “Desire”, not to mention the jaw-dropping live rendition of “Brutal Force”. Feel free to debate me on these selections, as so much of the album overflows with brilliance that it’s endlessly hard to pick a favourite. In fact, I’m stupefied in trying to figure out another superlative I could give to this tremendous record. Let’s just say, Jeopardy far surpasses my humble writing ability. I hope, for your own sake, that it’s not missing from your record collection for much longer. 


Issued in May 1977, the Outsiders' first album has attracted some renown as an historical footnote, since it might have been the first self-released U.K. punk LP, or at least one of the first. (There's also some dispute as to whether it should be considered self-released, as it did come out on a label set up by guitarist/singer Adrian Borland's parents that was technically independent from the band.) Why isn't it cited in punk histories like, for instance, the Buzzcocks' early-1977 self-released Spiral Scratch EP is? For one thing, it was panned upon its appearance by some highly regarded U.K. music critics who championed punk, Julie Burchill and Jon Savage. For another, it's actually not all that punky, though a few tracks certainly qualify by most listeners' standards. If you're not expecting a lost prime class of 1977 document, however, it's not so bad. The title track has the anthemic spewed lyrics and fast guitar blur typical of early British punk, as do "Terminal Case" and "Hit and Run," though the latter veers toward hard rock. On other songs, however, they play decidedly non-punk, quieter, more introspective material. "Break Free" and "Weird" are more like moody Jonathan Richman or Peter Perrett than all-out punk assault; "On the Edge" is like muted Stooges in its sludgy midtempo wariness; "Start Over" is an actual acoustic guitar-centred ballad, if a downbeat one; and "I'm Screwed Up," despite the punky title, is more a grungy hard rock song than a defiant assault. Certainly better than the initial U.K. music press reviews would have you believe, it's nonetheless no lost classic, sounding more like a young band with a hint of promise and some knack for expressing vulnerable frustration. The sound quality's pretty good for an essentially self-generated effort, but the playing is sometimes a bit dodgy, the songs lacking in memorable riffs and variety. So it adds up to something that seems a bit more like a demo than a finished product, though it certainly has its interest for U.K. punk collectors, in part because the quieter songs don't stick to a generic formula.

Discussion of punk albums can often find themselves loaded with contradictions. The Outsiders records are no exceptions. Legend has it that the true punks couldn’t play. Yet Borland was a guitarist of some repute. He wasn’t alone in this respect and we could easily point to Stuart Adamson (The Skids), Keith Levene (Clash/PIL) and Marco Pirroni (Banshees/Ants) as other examples of prodigious axe talent from the punk era. The thing that strikes most about Borland is just how good a guitarist he was so early into his career. So much so that on Calling On Youth youll find all manner of nods back to previous bands such as The DoorsVelvet Underground and even Roxy Music, when most punk bands were rebelling against the past. There are even guitar solos on the album, usually anathema to supposed punks.
But what did punk rock mean anyway? Nevermind The Bollocks is supposed to be the landmark album of the era but that isn’t really a punk record. Listen to the glossy production values and you’ll find that the Pistols famous LP is far from the scratchy, garage/demo quality of true punk recordings. Indeed some might venture that punk was merely a movement or concept, that the whole idea of punk was non-conformation. Thus signing with a label and pressing an album are at odds with the whole punk ethic. Calling On Youth was a punk album but The Outsiders hadn’t been signed. The record goes into the history books as the first self-funded album by any UK punk act. In an era dominated by singles this might seem about as anarchic a move imaginable. So allow yourself a private chuckle with though thought that Adrian’s parents put up most of the money.
The music is patchy and sprawling as it could only be. There are few signals on the album proper of the tense, post-punk soon to follow. (If you don’t know The Sound, I’ll summarise by saying they were as close to Joy Division as any London act ever came. Buy From The Lions Mouth, one of the truly essential albums of British post-punk.) The extra One To Infinity EP tracks start to sound tighter and less cluttered, signposting the way forward. Calling On Youth is a decent punk record but not much more than a curio, even for fans of The Sound.