RECORD REVIEWS, JULY - DECEMBER 2017
COCKNEY REJECTS. Peel Session 1979 EP (Pirate Love) It’s odd to think that, given the way Oi was later demonized by the music press, John Peel was a real champion for the Cockney Rejects in their early days. He recognized their raw talent as yet another new path in his musical landscape and was happy to support it, giving them two radio sessions that, I believe, have never been released before now (officially or otherwise.) What we have here are all four songs from their 1979 broadcast, capturing the band at their very best - loud, brash and straight to the point. Musically and lyrically, they weren’t too far away from being the East Ends’ version of the Ramones, keeping everything simple and catchy and singing about subjects that weren’t meant to be taken entirely seriously. Of course, things were destined to go askew for them but listen to these tracks and tell me that they don’t sound like a lot of fun ? Put it in the right context and you’ll be able to hear exactly what Peel enjoyed about them. Sound quality is great and the packaging is excellent (including lyrics, a photo insert and a sticker) but it’s limited to only 300 copies, so track it down quickly !
COCKNEY REJECTS. Peel Session 1980 EP (Pirate Love) Six months on from their first session and the Rejects are back at the BBC. Confident and brattish enough to be taking the piss out of punk rock stars (‘Greatest Cockney Rip Off’ takes a jab at Jimmy Pursey, even though he also supported the band) they were also starting to become musically more adept, creating a sound of their own that was destined to be imitated by countless others. The excellent version of ’15 Nights’ is probably the only track here that sounds a little more serious, lyrically, but it’s perfectly balanced by the raucous cover of ‘Blockbuster’ that keeps getting faster and faster until it sounds as if the band are just going to lose control of the whole thing. Somehow they keep it together, but it really is the ultimate version of this classic. Again, great sound quality and superb packaging. You really need to hear both of these EP’s because they’ll give you an idea of what the band were really about, before all the bullshit got in their way.
THE GENERATORS. Last of The Pariahs LP (Dr Strange) The Generators are veterans of the Southern California punk scene. Singer Doug Kane was formerly the frontman of the much-loved Schleprock and it was the break-up of that band that led directly to the formation of The Generators in 1997. This is a reissue of their eighth album, originally issued in 2011 but long out of print. Here, it’s remastered (by Tom Lyle of Government Issue fame) and available on vinyl for the first time. The album is a powerful mix of classic 1977 Punk, anthemic Californian bands like Social Distortion or Bad Religion and also, in places, on a very similar level to some of the great music that Down By Law have produced over the years. Over their twenty years of existence, they’ve supported bands as diverse as The Damned, The Specials, NoFX and Rancid, which gives you an idea of the way their music crosses many boundaries. Catchy riffs, intelligent, thoughtful lyrics and all delivered with total passion. It’s an utterly convincing album that makes you think, just why isn’t this band a lot better known in the UK ? Given the right exposure, that could still easily change. Be sure to hear this album and become a supporter !
MDC. Mein Trumpf. CD (Primordial) Unsurprisingly, with all that’s going on in America at present, MDC are sounding as vital and relevant as they ever have. Taking the Trump debacle as their launch pad, they deliver a blistering critique of current society, where high wages can justify slaughter and drone technology has produced a sanitised version of warfare. Although musically, the album is predominantly hardcore, tracks like ‘Haldol’ recall the more abstract sounds of the ‘This Blood’s For You’ album, while ‘My Show’ is based around a funky bass riff that have you thinking back to the classic ‘John Wayne Was a Nazi’. ‘Just For Today’ adds a more melodic tone and even a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour to proceedings, perfectly balancing and emphasizing the harder sounds elsewhere on the record. The final track, their already heralded new version of ‘Born To Die’ with new anti-Trump lyrics, is a timely and precise declaration. I’d be tempted to say that this is their best album since their very first one, but that would be skipping over a lot of great records that have come inbetween. All you really need to know is that this is MDC on top form, playing powerful and diverse music with intelligent and poignant lyrics that will leave you thinking just as much as slamming. Do not miss this album !
RAMONES. Live at CBGB 15/9/74 7” (Pirate Love) Three tracks from what must be one of the earliest recordings of Da Brudders, hurtlin’ through ‘Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement’ and ‘Judy Is A Punk’. The songs are all there even if the band are nowhere near as tight as they later became. This is a surprisingly good recording and although it isn’t exactly hi-fi, you can hear everything that’s happening, including mistakes, false starts and arguments between songs, which really gives you an idea of what it must have been like at those early shows. At times, it sounds like a life-or-death struggle between the individual Ramones and their instruments, but that’s what makes it great. This was a band determined to do what they believed in regardless of their own abilities or audience expectations. For that fact alone, you had to love them. This is a release that’s both historical and extremely enjoyable. Every home should have a copy !
SPARKS. Hippopotamus LP (BMG) It starts as soon as you see the artwork. It’s a great image that recalls classic albums like ‘Propaganda’ and ‘Indiscreet’. Sparks have always been masters of the entire package, both the image and the songs. Once I saw this album cover, I knew that this was going to be exceptional, even for a band who have spent the last 45 years releasing remarkable records. Opening with the melodramatic intro of ‘Probably Nothing’, the album starts in earnest with ‘Missionary Position’, another of Sparks sly commentaries on personal relationships, that begins with an almost Baroque piano sound before embracing a full band arrangement that lifts the pace and ensures this is going to become a live favourite. ‘Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)’ is almost a companion piece to ‘When Do I Get To Sing My Way’, with a similar musical and lyrical tone that’s also just as insistent. ‘Scandinavian Design’ is a homage to furniture (who else but Sparks would find amusement in such a subject ?) while ‘What The Hell Is It This Time’ returns to the full-band style and you could almost imagine it having its’ origins in the early-Seventies, a real glam-stomper even if the production here is utterly contemporary. The title track is a quirky re-imagination of ‘The Old Lady That Swallowed A Fly’, this time documenting the increasingly bizarre items that are overcrowding the swimming pool ! ‘I Wish You Were Fun’ is another deconstruction of relationships with an almost Thirties-style melody and ‘So Tell Me Mrs Lincoln’ is a witty alternative-perspective on historic events. ‘When You’re a French Director’ (featuring a genuine French director) delves into a subject close to the Mael brothers hearts, complete with a suitably Parisian soundtrack. ‘A Little Bit Like Fun’ is the final outing for the fuller, band-sound, all be it with a near orchestral arrangement, and finally, ‘Life With The Macbeths’ (possibly the original reality show ?) ends the album on an appropriately operatic tone. In essence, this album has all the elements of a perfect Sparks album, from pop through to drama and always with plenty of originality and imagination. That they are still producing albums as great as this is a true testament to their creative powers. In a world where so many bands are content to rehash themselves and coast along after they’ve had their first taste of success, Sparks have continually challenged themselves and never stopped moving forward. Someone asked me if I was going to give this a five-star review… I don’t think five stars is anywhere near enough !