RECORD REVIEWS, JULY-DECEMBER 2019
ALTERNATIVE TV / THE GOOD MISSIONARIES. Scars on Sunday CD (Winter Hill) Originally available only as a limited-edition cassette-only release, this album gathers together some truly remarkable material. ATV had just recently released their infamous second LP, ‘Vibing Up the Senile Man’ and had attempted to tour their new set, often confronted by audiences who only wanted to hear the bands’ punk rock catalogue. While the album itself was met with bemusement, the live performances generated anger on top of the confusion. After all, how dare this band, who had been at the forefront of the punk rock principle of ‘no rules’ now be refusing to play by punk rock’s new rules ? In truth, many of the original bands, intent on not repeating themselves, faced similar difficulties with their second albums (The Adverts, The Damned, John Lydon’s transformation from the Pistols to PIL) but ATV certainly made the most dramatic leap. Mark Perry had already done the three chord trick (with considerable success) and had since become more interested in other less restrictive sounds. Whilst facing accusations of ‘going hippy’, in truth ‘Vibing’ owed much of its’ approach to a mix of Dub Reggae and early Industrial music. There was a lot of space within the music, accentuating different moods and atmosphere, whilst giving the lyrics plenty of room to express genuine angst and personal issues. But in so many ways, the territory it explored was just too raw and unfamiliar for many of the listeners and it has taken many years for the material to be properly reassessed and re-evalued in a better perspective. What this release captures is the bands’ entire set from the Greenwich Theatre in early 1979, which ended with the plugs being pulled, a piano being dumped off the stage and intervention from the police ! Following this is an improvised selection recorded live at the Lyceum (supporting Red Crayola and Scritti Politti) and two final tracks recorded on their tour supporting The Pop Group as The Good Missionaries, including a truly scary version of ‘The Good Missionary’. As I said about the ‘Vibing’ album, time gives us a better opportunity to assess what Mark and the band were attempting to do with a clearer perspective. The Greenwich set actually begins with a track from the first album, ‘Nasty Little Lonely’, although here it’s stripped down to the bones with a genuinely menacing sound. ‘Release the Natives’ sounds much more powerful than its’ studio version, and ‘The Radio Story’ manages to combine excerpts of ‘Lost in Room’ and ‘Fellow Sufferer’ to great effect. In more recent years, Perry has combined material from the bands’ first and second albums even further in live performances and the results have been well-received. Perhaps a similar approach back in 78/79 would have worked more to the bands’ advantage, but evidently their enthusiasm was solidly focused on the new material and the transformation was just too startling for many of their previous fans. But by now, I would hope, most listeners are going to be able to appreciate this for its’ own excitement, courage and inventiveness. Alongside the excellent ‘Fire From Heaven’ album, this is probably the best representation of Alternative TV / The Good Missionaries from this era and it really needs to be heard. Of course, some are still not going to get it, but if you’re willing to indulge the intent, there’s no reason why you won’t enjoy this music just as much as ‘The Image Has Cracked’ or, indeed, anything else from Mark Perry’s prodigious career. This is incredible music and one thing is assured – it will provoke a reaction.
ANTI-NOWHERE LEAGUE. We Are The League DVD (Wienerworld) I’ve never been a big fan of the ANWL. To me, they always seemed like too much of a bad parody, even though they did release some great songs (‘I Hate People’, ‘For You’ and even the gleefully-obscene ‘So What’.) But this documentary puts everything into perspective, is honest about their roots and intentions, and is actually a lot of fun. Basically, the band came together in the sedate town of Tunbridge Wells and initially only guitarist Magoo was a punk fan, with singer Animal coming from a biker background. But they got together, starting enjoying themselves and, as much by chance as anything, started getting national exposure on the thriving punk circuit, resulting in the release of the ‘Streets of London’ 7”. While the a-side itself wasn’t exactly remarkable, the b-side ‘So What’ combined an insistent, simple riff with lyrics that could have come from a Derek & Clive album to create a moronic-but-memorable punk rock classic, which was catapulted to legendary status when copies of the record were seized by the Police ! Further singles and a debut album followed, together with extensive touring in the UK, Europe and America, but when it reached the time for them to record their next studio album, things started to go askew. The excellent single ‘For You’ (strangely, not even mentioned in this documentary… surely an oversight ?) had hinted at a more rocky sound (albeit in a Motorhead kinda way) but the subsequent album found them meandering, both in terms of style and image, and the band would finally split-up. It would be neatly a decade before a proper reunion was attempted but the band, with different line-ups, has continued ever since. The story itself probably isn’t that much different to many other punk bands of that era but what makes it stand-out is the diverse cast of genuine characters involved and the humour with which they still view their legacy. They may have been quite serious about some things, but they were also all determined to have as much fun as possible, something which they undoubtedly achieved. And while they may not have been to everyone’s taste, that wasn’t what they’d set-out to do. Watching this documentary gives you a real sense of the band and, ultimately, it’s hard to begrudge them any of their successes. Maybe they weren’t the greatest punk band, but they did things their own way, had a good time and left their mark. This is an entertaining story and only the most jaded among us would fail to enjoy it.
ASTROSAUR.Obscuroscope CD (Pelagic) This is an intriguing record. Entirely instrumental, it comes from an inherently Metal-based background but the band seems intent on exploring every possible connotation available. As their name suggests, there’s certainly a big element of Space Rock (from Hawkwind through to Voivod) but you can also hear influences from trad-metal, Stoner, Prog / Math rock and even Black Metal. The band were formed by three students from the Conservatory of Music in Kristiansand, Norway, but their interests obviously include much wider tastes as lead guitarist Eirak Krakanes has also played with bands such as Leprous and with Ihsahn, of Black Metal legends Emperor. The problem with instrumental metal records is they do have a tendency to get too technical for their own good, losing the sense of power and immediacy that the genre really needs to work well. Whilst there are certainly moments on this album where that can be the case, most of it takes a more natural path, working towards the overall sound and atmosphere rather than trying to be too clever. The album works through different moods, tempos and themes and has plenty of energy, not unlike bands such as Blind Idiot God or, more recently, Pelican. Of course, if you have no interest in Metal or Hard Rock to begin-with, then none of this is going to appeal to you, but if you are willing to check-out bands who are really trying to stretch the boundaries of what the genre can achieve, then this is something you should investigate
BUCHA EFFECT. Incredible Shrinking Future CD / 7” (Pacific Trash Vortex) Bucha Effect are always good fun as a live band but sometimes it’s their sense of humour that gets remembered rather than the songs themselves. This new release helps to put it all back in perspective and, although the humour is still there, this six-song CD really brings the songs to the fore. Bucha Effect write some great, catchy songs and first track, ‘Uphill’, has great, thoughtful lyrics as well. ‘Tommy Hates Cheese’ is Deptfords’ new anthem, a homage to Mr Phobic himself, while ‘Bono’s Hat’ ridicules the most pompous twat this side of Donald Trump. ‘Dead Doggin’ and ‘Your Dad is in The Cult’ tackle serious social issues (or perhaps not…) while ‘Rolaaand’ is a flashback to the glory days of ‘Grange Hill’. What more could you want ? Well, they’ve also released two of the tracks, ‘Uphill’ and ‘Tommy Hates Cheese’ as a lovely, limited, red vinyl7” single, to meet all of your plastic cravings ! So choose well, but just be sure to spend some cash in this direction…
DARKTHRONE. Old Star CD (Peaceville) Darkthrone are considered to be one of the seminal Norwegian Black Metal bands, releasing three highly influential albums during the early Nineties. However, they haven’t seen the need to stay strictly within that genre and have gradually introduced further elements into their music. This latest release sees them embracing aspects of Punk, Hardcore, Black Sabbath-style Hard Rock and metallic rock’n’roll in a similar style to classic Motorhead or Venom. All the main elements of Black Metal are still there to be heard – powerful, mostly fast rhythms, throat-thrashing vocals – but they add more to their music to make it more interesting to listen to rather than just an all-out sonic assault. Lyrically, they also seem to veer away from the usual Satanic themes that this genre is often obsessed with, talking about different themes and presenting ideas that you can really think about… the lyrical content of ‘The Hardship of The Scots’, for example, could easily have come from one of the early Scandinavian hardcore bands (Anti Cimex, Mob 47 etc.) What Darkthrone have created is a very powerful album which works because it’s willing to try different approaches to their music and are intent on not being obvious or playing safe. Whether you’re a fan of Black Metal or not, you may well enjoy this album because, at the end of the day, it’s a really good record.
DEFLORE with JAZ COLEMAN. Party in The Chaos CD (Subsound) Jaz Coleman has not collaborated with many bands outside of Killing Joke, but was apparently so impressed with this Italian band when he saw them in Rome that they made plans to work together in Prague. The results are stunning. Musically, it’s not a million miles away from Killing Joke except that Geordies’ distinctive guitar sound is replaced here by a more filmic use of keyboards and atmosphere. The title track is a powerful upbeat assault, while ‘Sunset in the West’ is an instrumental piece that really indulges the more soundtrack-styled elements of both Jaz and Deflore. Final track ‘Transhuman World’ is perhaps the most similar to recent Killing Joke records, with a powerful almost martial sound, although the arrangements and delivery are also quite distinct and ensure that the song stands up very much on its’ own merits. As an aside from Killing Joke, this still remains something that will appeal to their fans, but it also presents plenty of different ideas that suggest this project could be taken even further. Be sure to hear it !
THE 4-SKINS. Unreleased Radio & Studio Sessions LP (Ttan Ttakun) The 4-Skins remain a bit of an awkward quantity. Their early releases are Oi / Street Punk classics, but their involvement in the Southall Riots (not that the band were actually responsible for the events) condemned them in the eyes of the music press and when the original line-up subsequently fell apart, later versions of the band never managed to capture their original vitality. But the early material still stands up surprisingly well and if it hadn’t been for the eagerness of certain journalists to vilify the Oi movement, they could have proven to be a positive force. As this album shows, they were just as able to incorporate Ska rhythms into their music as the raw punk style they are mostly known for (and this LP doesn’t even include the Pop-Ska classic ‘Plastic Gangster’.) A lot of their lyrics did involve violence or unsavoury characters, but in the early 80’s that was a part of life, particularly in places like the East End. (The same journo’s who condemn Oi will probably embrace Gangsta Rap, but where’s the real difference ?) At the end of the day, it’s all down to intent. Whilst I’m willing to say that later versions of the 4-Skins probably let the side-down, the original line-up (while Gary Hodges was still in the band) wrote and released some great punk rock and songs like ‘Wonderful World’. ‘Evil’ and ‘One Law Fore Them’ still stand up as real classics. There’s not much info included with this album although the five ‘Bumper Sessions’ tracks on side two have been previously released. I’m not so sure about the ‘unreleased demos’ and the radio session track-listing is surprisingly close to their Peel session, so you may need to make your own mind up on that one. The thing you need to know is that the sound quality is really good all the way through and the songs are some of the best the band ever recorded. If you want to be a snob, you’re going to hate this before you even hear it, but if you’re happy to hear some great street-level punk rock, this is going to blow you away !
FREELOADER. The Path of Least Resistance LP (Rum Bar) Featuring members of rock’n’roll aristocracy The Upper Crust, plus comparative whipper-snappers Justine & The Unclean, Freeloader are Boston’s latest hard rockin’ supergroup. Nat Freedberg already released a solo album earlier this year, but this set of songs veer back towards his obvious love for Bon Scott era AC/DC (the good stuff) with perhaps a few nods towards the likes of Thin Lizzy and some of the harder, boogie-ing Southern Rock bands. Much like Turbonegro, the reason this works so well is because the band obviously love this music and play it properly, whilst at the same time embracing the inherent silliness of the genre and, instead ridiculing it, play it with a suitably dry sense of humour. I mean, how else would you get away with recording an anthem called ‘Nobody Gives a Fuck’ ? There are two inspired covers on the album… the first, ‘Rag Doll’, combines hard rock riffin’ with a catchy powerpop accessibility, while ‘Will It Go Round in Circles’ (originally by Billy Preston) is transformed into a snarlin’ hard rock headbanger. Perhaps the most Spinal Tap moment of the entire album is the excellent ‘Highland Fling’, complete with bagpipe-style guitars and including the immortal lines ‘By the loch, I met a lassie… she was quite a piece of assey’ – Genius ! The album ends with the important observation that ‘Ten Songs Make An Album’… I hope the kids are paying attention ! This is a great rock album that doesn’t take itself too seriously but never fails to actually ROCK ! If you can’t enjoy this, then you’re really missing out.
GAD WHIP. Ward 24 7” (Fourth Dimension) This is a very interesting record, a real step-forward from their recent album. Tracks like ‘Ward 24’ seem to work better as stand-alone pieces, and although it’s hardly a ‘pop’ record in the usual sense, this could easily find itself appealing to a pretty broad audience. Although singer Pete Davies does share some similarities with Jason Williamson (Sleaford Mods) it’s more in the observational-style he adopts rather than the actual delivery and, let’s face it, the current social-situation in the UK provides more than enough subject-matter. But it’s the band behind him that really set things apart. ‘Ward 24’ has heavy, almost dub-like rhythms (not far from Ruts DC at their most inventive) but combine it with minimalist samples and guitar sounds to further the atmosphere. Contains the classic lyric ‘the cinema was sold-out so we went to Ikea…’ B-side ‘Trademark’ is a much noisier, punkier affair, faster and nastier, although again Pete Davies’ narrative underpins everything. Two tracks seemingly at odds with each other and yet a perfect combination. Track down a copy of this record now, as I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of interest in this band pretty soon.
GENYA RAVAN. Icon CD (Rum Bar) Genya Ravan is an important part of New York’s rock’n’roll history. Her career started in the early Sixties as the singer for a band called The Escorts before she formed Goldie and the Gingerbreads, who became the first all-girl rock band to be signed to a major label (Atco.) They went on to tour with bands like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and The Kinks, and even relocated to London for a time, where they scored a Top Thirty hit with ‘Can’t You Hear My Heart Beat’. In 1969, she formed Ten Wheel Drive, who signed with Polydor records and went on to release three albums before she went solo and released four albums under her own name. In the mid-Seventies, she became interested in the new music emanating from the Bowery and began frequenting CBGB’s. Her enthusiasm led to being asked by Hilly Kristal to produce the Dead Boys debut album, which remains a classic to this day. Her career as a producer continued and in 1980 she worked on the ‘Siren’ album by Ronnie Spector, encouraging her to cover the Ramones’ ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ and instigating guest appearances from both Cheetah Chrome and Billy Rath. In subsequent years, she’s released further records, produced more bands, published her biography, ‘Lollipop Lounge’ and featured as a DJ on Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show. So that’s enough background – here’s the important stuff. Genya has recorded a new album alongside original member of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, Ricky Byrd, and it’s a lot of fun indeed. Genya’s voice is still has plenty of power, somewhere between Ronnie Spector and Janis Joplin, whilst musically this is a real mix of great influences. Obviously, the Sixties era plays a big part, with hints of original R’n,B, Girl-groups like the Shangri-La’s and the Ronettes, and even harder edged Blues. But alongside this, there’s also nods towards the early days of New York Punk Rock (‘Don’t Go In The Bathroom’ is a tribute to CBGB’s infamous facilities), New Wave (she includes a quirky cover of ‘Pump It Up’, the best single that Elvis Costello ever released) and classic powerpop (’He Got Me’.) I know that a lot of people aren’t going to get into this, but it’s their loss. What you need to understand is that the New York punk scene had influences going way-back to the early days of rock’n’roll and that’s why Genya understood what was happening and became a part of it. This is also the reason why she’s releasing a great new album right now. If you pay attention to the music you enjoy, then this will make total sense. If you don’t already know of Genya Ravan, make sure this album is you’re starting point.
IAMTHEMORNING. The Bell CD (KScope) Iamthemorning are a Russian duo that combine classical instrumentation with contemporary, alternative Rock to create something entirely of their own. There are elements that you’ll recognise, but just as soon as they enter your mind, the moment will be gone and the album has moved on to something else. It’s almost wistful in a way, but rather intriguing with it. The band have achieved a considerable following with their previous studio albums, even winning awards for their previous opus, ‘Lighthouse’, and on hearing this it’s easy to see why. Their music is intricate enough to appeal to critics but also open enough to appeal to a wide fan base. If you want comparisons, I could probably mention Kate Bush and maybe even All About Eve (their more adventurous moments at least…) But this is something with a lot of individuality, drawing from disparate sources to create something new and unique. I’m not going to say that it will appeal to everyone and, indeed, it’s probably not the sort of thing that I’d usually listen to, but if you can spend some time to pay attention, I’m sure you’ll find something rather interesting here.
THE JACKETS. Queen of The Pill CD (Voodo Rhythm) This is the fourth album from The Jackets, a female-fronted Garage-fuzz band from Switzerland. They’ve been playing together for over a decade, establishing themselves as a vital live act as well as releasing great records. Their sound is firmly based in the Nuggets-era, but with an excellent contemporary production that makes every note, beat and screech leap out of the speakers. The guitar sound is fuzzed-up to almost Stooges-style levels while singer Jackie has a distinctive, powerful voice that grabs your attention and the songs possess great, catchy hooks that’ll make you want to groove all night long. If you could imagine the Fuzztones when they were at their primal-best, but give them a female vocalist and a better sense of pop, this is perhaps how they would have sounded. The songs are great, ten of them packed into a mere 32 minutes, but trust me, not a second is wasted. These guys know what they’re doing and deliver the good stuff with just the right attitude. You won’t want to miss this album !
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD STRANGE. Russian Spy 7” / CD (Strange Recordings) A great Sixties-surf tinged record recounting recent events in the bands’ hometown of Salisbury. The guitar veers between the twang and the fuzz to great effect, steering the catchy garage punk in a strong, confident manner, whilst the vocals hold your attention with their raw but almost under-stated presence. The title track is based around the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and relates the story from the point of view of people having this event occur on their doorsteps. It’s great, the sort of story that should be told and combined with some great music. The 7” includes another fine track, ‘Many Secrets’, while the CD version includes an extra three, all of which maintain the high standards, especially the raunchy instrumental ‘Desert Sand’. Think of Naz Nomad and the Nightmares tackling ‘The Last of the Secret Agents’ and you’ll be in the right area. The 7” is the preferable format, but the extra tracks need to be heard too… so buy both versions !
THE PRETENDERS With Friends DVD set (Wienerworld) As far as formats go, this release has got it covered – Blue Ray, DVD and CD ! But it’s the quality of the material that really counts and this is a fine document of The Pretenders, live in concert with a selection of special guests. Recorded at a special event in Atlantic City, this is a perfect demonstration of Chrissie Hyndes’ talent for creating thoughtful pop songs whilst still embracing her rock’n’roll roots (early Stones, the Stooges etc.) Live, the mixture really comes to the forefront. Opening with ‘The Wait’ from their debut album, you get a great mix of raw guitars and catchy tuneage. ‘Back on the Chain Gang’ is the first big hit to be played, and again, it uses that blend of styles to full effect. The first guest of the evening is Shirley Manson of Garbage fame, sharing vocals on an excellent version of ‘Talk of the Town’ and a cover of the Garbage song ‘Only Happy When it Rains’. After another Pretenders track, ‘Day After Day’, the band are then joined by members of Kings of Leon which, for my opinion, is a rather pointless exercise, as is the following appearance of Incubus. Neither of these are particularly interesting in their own right and fail to add anything to the performance, so I would have preferred to just see The Pretenders playing their own material. In fact, there’s a really big, missed opportunity with the next song, ‘Precious’… they could have brought Johnny Moped onstage for a duet (Chrissie was once a member of the Johnny Moped band and ‘Precious’ dates back to that period !) Now that’s something I would have loved to have seen ! Maybe tomorrow (as the song goes…) But the final guest is the real highpoint… Chrissie introduces ‘the greatest human being in the world – Iggy Pop !’ Well, who can argue with an introduction like that ? Firstly, he sings ‘Fools Must Die’, probably the most appropriate of Chrissie’s lyrics for this occasion, and then they duet on a stunning version of ‘Candy’, not an obvious choice but nonetheless, one of Iggy’s most underrated songs. For me, this is the highlight of the show. Chrissie and Iggy really work well together and I would have been happy with more of this, but it’s time for The Pretenders’ finale, a great rendition of ‘Brass in Pocket’, before the encore brings the band and all of the guests back onstage for ‘Middle of the Road’. Despite my reservations about the appropriateness of some of the guests, this is a great recording of a truly one-off event and it’s highly enjoyable. If you want to get a good idea of what The Pretenders have always been about, this is an essential recording. Be sure to see it.
THE VIBRATORS. The 1976 Demos LP / The 1977 Demos LP (Ttan Ttakun Irratia) Previously only available on a long-out-of-print CD, so if you’re a fan of the band, you’re definitely going to want to hear these recordings. Not unsurprisingly, the ’76 demos tend be a bit slower and less rowdy than the bands’ eventual releases, but the Vibrators had been playing on the Pub circuit for some time before ‘punk’ emerged and, while they might have had long hair initially, they were still developing their own sound which was already a lot more confrontational than the standard pub rock fare. ‘We Vibrate’ appears in a much more Pop-style while ‘Whips and Furs’ is still in its’ original ‘Dance To the Music’ incarnation. Meanwhile, ‘Young Lust’ includes some guitar noise that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Captain Beefheart album.. In truth, these recordings are classic ‘proto-punk’ (as the journo’s like to call it now) and shows a band who were developing a style somewhere between the better elements of pub rock and what was to become Punk. There’s also an inspired version of ‘Day Tripper’ which manages to integrate the riff from ‘Interstellar Overdrive’… God knows how they came up with that idea, but it works !
By the end of ’76, whilst still true to their raw, rock’n’roll roots, The Vibrators were also becoming immersed and influenced by the emerging Punk Rock scene. Many have accused them of jumping on the bandwagon but in truth, they had already been heading in a similar direction and had also written many of their best known songs by the time Punk came to national attention…they’d played at the 100 Club Punk festival and their first single, ‘We Vibrate’ was even released before ‘Anarchy in the UK’, so the bandwagon hadn’t even started ! Listening to these demos, you get a mix of tracks that seem a little tentative and others (‘Automatic Lover’ are actually more raucous than their officially released version. Together with a bunch of tracks that didn’t get released during the bands’ original incarnation, this is all good stuff and something that deserves to be heard not just because of its’ historical significance but because the songs sound really good. If you’ve never liked the Vibrators, these albums are probably not going to change your mind, but if you have ever enjoyed those records, these are a great addition to their legacy.
DAVID WOODCOCK. Fixtures And Fittings 7” (Blow Up) The description ‘singer-songwriter’ is usually enough to put me off something even before I’ve heard it (and, in most cases, hearing it tends to confirm my doubts) but this single really transcends all of that nonsense. Going by this single, David Woodcock really belongs more to that loosely-related circle of eccentric artists who, back in the Seventies, would probably have ended up either on Stiff or Small Wonder records. Think of performers like Patrick Fitzgerald, Ian Dury or maybe even (early) Billy Bragg (before he started to take himself too seriously.) These were all people with a genuinely original, quirky take on music which produced catchy but genuinely unique songs. David certainly fits in with that approach and this is a great song that really ought to be getting loads of airplay. It deserves to be heard just for the use of the classic Kenneth Williams’ reference (‘Infamy !’) but you’ll be humming along to the rest of the tune even before it gets that far. Make sure you check this out !