RECORD REVIEWS, JULY-DECEMBER, 2022.
ABRASIVE WHEELS. 1981-1984 CD (Captain Oi!) Forming in Leeds at the end of the Seventies, Abrasive Wheels were already touring by 1980 and released their debut single, ‘Army Song’, on their own Abrasive Records label in 1981. It’s initial success saw the band signing to the Riot City label who reissued the single and gave it a much wider distribution. 1982 saw two more singles, ‘Vicious Circle’ and the excellent ‘Burn ‘em Down’, but it was their album ‘When the Punks Go Marching In’, released at the end of the year, which really established their reputation. It was raw but the energy levels were suitably high and whilst some of the lyrics may have been a little naïve, the overall positivity of the songs really grabbed the moment and impressed the fans, sending it into the Top Ten of the Indie Charts. !983 saw the band switching to the Clay label, whilst they continued to tour and began work on material for their second album. Their next single, an unlikely cover of ‘Jailhouse Rock’, was the first indication that the band were intent on not just sticking to the style of their first album and while it certainly combined just as much noise and energy as before, it also featured a more adventurous production and a better use of melody. The artwork also saw the band moving away from the leather jacket / brick wall imagery that so many bands had been using, towards a more colourful / interesting style… they clearly didn’t want to get stuck in the past! Another single, ‘Banner of Hope’ was released before the end of the year, giving more indication of their new, more melodic direction. Their second album, ‘Black Leather Girl’, was eventually released in April 1984 and whilst some listeners were confused by the different sounds, overall sales were still strong and it reached the Indie Top Ten once again. The band also toured in America for the first time, playing to large enthusiastic crowds, but when they returned to the UK, they realised that things were no longer as enjoyable as it had been. Despite plans for a third album, the band broke up, leaving an impressive set of records as their legacy. This double CD collection compiles all of their original releases and really shows how much they had developed within such a relatively short period of time. Whilst ‘When the Punks...’ remains a classic example of the UK82 style, ‘Black Leather Girl’ has aged really well in its’ own right and is possibly even more appealing now than it was forty years ago. Either way, this is a perfect chance to rediscover the band and appreciate the great music they made.
THE BOBBY LEES. Bellevue CD (Ipecac) Having already released two albums (first one self-released, the second on the Alive label) the Bobby Lees have now found a home for themselves on Ipecac, which seems to be an ideal place for them to unleash their chaotic, unrestrained style of punk rock. Owing as much to early rock’n’roll as they do to any of the ensuing musical eras, this is a band who sound totally natural. They’re doing something that’s true to themselves, even if there are a few moments that will have you thinking of Dead Kennedys, Gun Club, Blues Explosion, or maybe even L7… the thing is, although these may be amongst the bands that inspired the Bobby Lees, they’ve put them all into one big melting pot and produced their own style, direction and delivery. Singer/guitarist Sam Quartin has a great vocal range, veering from moody’n’bluesy to psychotic screeches, providing just the right narrative for each song. Musically, although predominantly upbeat, the band are also adept at providing plenty of space for the songs to develop. The frantic moments are exhilarating, but all the more exciting when combined with the slower, quieter breaks. The production captures it all with a clarity that lets you hear everything that’s going on, whilst keeping it as raw as a live performance. I’m very impressed and I can only hope that we get a chance to see them live in the near future. In the meantime, do yourself a favour and play this album loud and often!
THE CASSINI PROJEKT. Blue Ocean Event CD (cassiniprojekt.bandcamp.com) The Cassini Projekt is actually a one-man show at present, although presumably the name allows for the addition of extra contributors as and when necessary. In the meantime, this is an interesting mix of contemporary rock styles and classic influences dating-back as far as the Seventies, everything from Queen through to King Crimson. Main man Alex McDonnell obviously has a broad taste and it certainly helps to add depth to his music. It’s pretty technical stuff but also manages to exude a warmth and character all of its’ own, which is all too often missing from many such outings. At times the music is intricate and intimate whilst other moments are gloriously bombastic. This has a lot of potential and is certainly something that could develop a strong following in the near future.
CHRIS POPE & THE CHORDS UK. Big City Dreams LP (Epop) I reviewed this album almost a year ago, but due to unavoidable delays the vinyl version has only just appeared. It’s a great record and it looks and sounds even better on vinyl, so I’m going to update the review for a second inclusion because, basically, it deserves it. ‘Big City Dreams’ is the third album from Chris Pope’s current band and, whilst they’ve all been great records, this one sounds even better than its’ predecessors. In fact, much that I love the music released by the original Chords (and there’s more than a few classics in that discography) this latest album stands up as some of the best material Chris has ever written. His original Mod / Punk / Glam influences are still in the mix, but there’s also a lot more diversity in this set, adding further depth to the proceedings. The record opens with a huge, crashing guitar chord that’s almost like a statement of intent which the rest of the album has to live up to. But no worries on that count, as the first song, ‘Listen to the Radio’, is an instantly enjoyable anthem paying tribute to great moments of early-Seventies Pop music, combined with a nod towards the Ramones’ ‘Rock’n’Roll Radio’. ‘The Last Great Rock Star’ (have a guess who you think it refers to…) quickly follows and delivers another attention-grabbing song with great melodies and a catchy chorus. Third track, ‘Hey Kids! Come the Revolution’, takes a less- boisterous direction, although again it has a fine melodic hook and an insistent chorus that will have the whole audience singing along, while the lyrics are witty and poignant. ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ is a nicely understated song, while ‘Veronica Jones’ reminds me (favourably) of The Undertones. Seriously, there isn’t a bad song on this record and, despite the different tones and tempos of the various songs it all comes together as a really solid album. ‘A Billion Things To Do’ has the kind of lyrics to inspire and keep you going, while ‘Twenty First Century Girl’ is an upbeat powerpop classic underpinned with a Ska rhythm that keeps it boppin’ along at a perfect pace… it really ought to be on all the radio waves! ‘Portobello Road’ celebrates the heyday of the West London street, when it really was an exciting place to visit… appropriately, the song also incorporates different musical styles, from reggae through to slide guitar and Celtic sounds. The album ends with the epic ‘Great Expectations’ which recalls the likes of Mott the Hoople. It’s possibly the track on this album that’s furthest from what you might expect from Chris Pope, but it works really well, full of passion and intent. Trust me, you really need to hear this record… Do yourself a favour and get yourself a copy soon.
THE DAMNED. A Night of a Thousand Vampires LP (E.A.R.Music) This more ‘theatrical’ event took place in 2019 as a one-off at the London Palladium, although as this album proves, the music more than stands by itself. The intention seems to have been to highlight the darker, more ‘gothic’ elements of The Damned, together with various additional performers joining the band onstage. The setlist included songs taken from right across their career, although perhaps unsurprisingly it did seem to concentrate more on material from ‘The Black Album’, ‘Strawberries’ and ‘Phantasmagoria’. But the choices were good and it all came together very well. Songs like ‘Grimly Fiendish’ and ‘Eloise’ have always sounded much better when played live (especially by this line-up) and the same can also be said of recent tracks like ‘Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘Black is the Night’. Additionally, they also added a couple of previously un-played cover versions for this evening, firstly The Doors ‘People Are Strange’ and then, during the middle of ‘Neat Neat Neat’, they veer into a suitably atmospheric version of ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. Both of them sound great and work really well as part of the set, but the highlight once again is a stunning version of ‘Curtain Call’, together with an appearance by Emily Vanian, reprising her remarkable talents as a violinist. Awesome! Anyway, this comes as a double album in a gatefold sleeve, resplendent with new artwork from the redoubtable Graham Humphreys. It’s an impressive document that captures a very special performance. If you’re a fan of The Damned, you will need a copy.
DEAD KENNEDYS. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables – 2022 Mix. CD (Cherry Red) A remix of a classic album is always going to be controversial, but in this case with the ongoing antagonism between Jello Biafra and his former band-mates, it reaches a whole other level. I’ve heard convincing arguments from both sides but I still can’t decide if either is entirely right or wrong, so I’ll put all of that to one side and consider this release on its’ own merits. ‘Fresh Fruit…’ was undeniably an important, influential and inspiring album, qualities that it retains to this day. Their first couple of singles, ‘California Uber Alles’ and ‘Holiday in Cambodia’, were so exciting and different to anything I’d heard before, so I was really eager to hear their album. It didn’t disappoint. The lyrics and artwork are witty, intelligent and thought-provoking, whilst the music embraces a whole range of styles, from Surf Guitar to the Stooges. The Dead Kennedys didn’t sound like anyone else and that’s why this album still sounds remarkably valid today. However, the original production was not perfect. It was rather ‘tinny’ or ‘trebly’ and while that didn’t spoil the album, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who thought that it could have been even better! So, forty-odd years down the line, the album has been remixed by a ‘big-name’ producer (Chris Lord-Alge…I’d never heard of him.) The results are interesting. There’s definitely more ‘bottom-end’ on some (if not all) of the tracks, giving them a deeper sound and more presence, plus there’s more clarity, allowing you to hear more detail, particularly from the guitar sounds and Jello’s vocals. However, the recordings certainly haven’t been diluted at all by the process and there’s just as much energy as ever. That said, I can’t say that this is the definitive version of the album and if you already have a copy of the original mix, you’re not necessarily going to need to replace it. I doubt that fans will be disappointed by this release but it’ll be down to personal taste as to which version you prefer. This mix certainly adds different elements to the original recordings and it’s well worth hearing, but don’t expect it to make the original mix redundant. Additionally, the CD comes in a kind of book-format, featuring additional text and artwork plus comments from various musicians etc (although it doesn’t include the original poster artwork, which is a shame.) You’ll have to make your own mind up as to whether you prefer this mix or not, but it’s definitely something you should consider.
THE DICKIES. Idjit Savant LP (Dr Strange) Having been out-of-print on vinyl for a real long time (over 25 years, to be precise) this reissue is long overdue and full-marks to Dr Strange for getting the job done. Re-mastered and sounding better than ever, this is one of the classic Dickies albums (aren’t they all?) Definitely one of my favourites, it caught the band at a particularly creative time, mixing their love of punk rock, Sixties pop and early Seventies rock to perfection. The album contains some of The Dickies very best songs, including ‘Welcome to the Diamond Mine’, ‘Toxic Avenger’, ‘I’m Stuck in a Condo’, ‘Roadkill’ and ‘Just Say Yes’, as well as three great covers, ‘Golden Boys’ (Pat Smear), ‘Elevator’ (Grape Fruit) and ‘Pretty Ballerina’ (The Left Banke.) All three were great songs for The Dickies to cover but, not being as well-known as previous choices, left many fans thinking they were the bands’ own songs… Certainly, they made them their own in here! Other notable tracks on the album include ‘Oh Boy’ which Leonard and Stan had initially written for The Ramones, the bubblegum pop of ‘House of Raoul’ and the Baroque ballad ‘Song of the Dawn’, which ends the album in a bizarrely sombre mood. However, overall the most notable feature was the excellent production, courtesy of the band themselves alongside the mysterious John X, which totally contrasted to the lacklustre mix which had sadly let-down their previous LP, ‘Second Coming’. Aside from this, anyone who saw the band live around this time will undoubtedly confirm that the new songs fitted-in with their older material to great effect and it really looked as if the band were back at full strength, although various line-up changes and hiccups conspired to thwart them once again. But whatever happened, it doesn’t deter from the fact that this is a truly great album. Every fan of The Dickies has their own favourite albums… in my case, I tend to think that they’ve never made a bad album, but some are even better than the others. ‘Idjit Savant’ is clearly one of the best.
DOUBLE FISTED. Carousel 7” (Records With Attitude) I really wasn’t sure what to expect when this record arrived at FNL HQ. All the way from Arizona, with very little info, but the sleeve, insert and dark red vinyl all looked really nice and interesting. From the insert, the band is just a two-piece so I was half-expecting another Garage/Blues duo, but first-play soon dispels that idea. The a-side is a hard-rock instrumental, reminding me of the Dutch band Gore in some ways. Massive riffs, solid rhythms, no bullshit. Not a wanky guitar-solo in ear-shot. And also surprisingly catchy, something that will get you up on your feet in seconds. The B-side, ‘3AM’, starts out as an instrumental before vocals suddenly emerge about half-way through, in a Cronos/Venom sorta style (which isn’t a bad thing at all.) But it’s still the riff’n’rhythm that’s the important thing and that keeps driving all the way to the end. This is one lovely slice of power-riffing. Play it as loud and often as you can!
DOWNTOWN DEATH RATTLE. EP (https://downtowndeathrattle.bandcamp.com) Las Vegas based Death Rock combo, although in this case the music is much-more stylised than the pseudo-goths who usually adopt that genre. This music is much-more about attitude and atmosphere, plus it also has deeper roots than most who try to jump on the ride. Downtown Death Rattle obviously have a clearer appreciation of what they’re putting together, mixing early LA punk bands with the more experimental elements of the Hollywood scene… think about X, Weirdos, The Screamers, 45 Grave and the Gun Club. This is a band who aren’t interested in sticking to just one genre… they mix rockabilly, punk rock, Garage and Glam to come out with something both exciting and entertaining. Given the right opportunities, Downtown Death Rattle is a band that could be very popular… check them out to be first on your block!
EDDIE & THE HOT RODS. The Singles 1976-85. CD (Captain Oi!) Eddie & the Hot Rods should have been much more successful than they were,but for some reason their career was derailed just as they were on the verge of major popularity. Some have claimed a curse was placed on them by Jimmy Page, but in reality it was probably more to do their refusal to jump on the ‘punk rock’ bandwagon, instead referring to themselves as a rock’n’roll band (albeit, very high energy…) This just didn’t fit-in with the narrative that the music press were promoting, so the Hot Rods were side-lined. However, especially in retrospect, the influence they had on the emerging Punk scene is very evident and in many ways (alongside their neighbours from Canvey Island, Dr Feelgood) they bridged the gap between the likes of the MC5 and New York Dolls and the UK Punk scene of 76/77. Indeed, Rob Tyner would go on to record a single with the Hot Rods (included in this set) and Johnny Thunders would borrow various members of the Hot Rods to help him record his classic ‘So Alone’ album. At the end of the day, how many compilations can claim to really document the original UK Punk scene if they don’t at least include ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’? Which ever way you look at it, Eddie & the Hot Rods were an outstanding band and their first three albums are essential. Alongside those records, they also released many great singles and EPs, and this collection compiles all of those released during their first decade. Initially signed to the Island label, their first slice of vinyl was ‘Writing on the Wall’, an energetic and catchy rhythm’n’blues anthem, quickly followed by an enthusiastic cover of ‘Wooly Bully’. The ‘Live at the Marquee’ EP captured their powerful live sound, although only featuring covers, but next came ‘Teenage Depression’ (title track of their first album) which really set them apart. Full of angst, attitude and raw power, this was just the type of song that numerous new punk bands would be trying to compose a year later. Before starting work on their second album, the band brought a second guitarist, Graeme Douglas, on board and his contribution resulted in their most successful single, ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’, as well as their best-known album, ‘Life on the Line’, which also included the excellent singles ‘Quit This Town’ and ‘Life on the Line’ itself. There was a gap before their third album, ‘Thriller’ was released in 1979, but it still included another couple of great singles, ‘Media Messiahs’ and ‘Power and the Glory’, both of which are amongst their best. However, they found themselves dropped by Island and signed by EMI, who promptly lost interest and did little to promote their ensuing album, ‘Fish’n’Chips’ and the single ‘Wide-Eyed Kids’, both released in 1980. The original band subsequently split-up, although many reunions and new line-ups continued over the years right up to Barrie Masters death in 2019. I saw various versions of the band on quite a few occasions and I can confirm, regardless of the different line-ups, they were always an impressive live-act. There were also other records released after 1985, but if you want to hear the best of the band, it’s that early era that you really need to listen to. This collection of their singles is probably the best place to start (although some of my favourite songs are album tracks.) Play this loud, drink some beer, and enjoy one of the best bands the UK has ever produced. If you’re not familiar with them already, it’s about time that you were.
GEOFFREY OI!COTT. Carry On Oi!Cott CD (Boss Tuneage) An Oi band obsessed with Cricket? Okay, that’s not a bad idea, but it’s not something that’s going to remain funny after too many listens. Fortunately, the band seem to have realised this and moved away from a basic Oi towards a more accessible punk style, allowing the music to stand up for itself. As a result, this is actually a rather good album with plenty of energy and catchy melodies, something that will appeal to a much broader range of punk fans. Lyrically, they’re also not so fixed on the cricket theme, although it’s still in there. It’s just not so prominent this time around. In fact, the album starts with a song about darts (Hardskin did that first with ‘Jockey on the Oche’) and also revisit the Noble Art of Arrows in the excellent ‘Frimley Green Preservation Society’. But elsewhere the songs seem to veer between genuinely-amusing observations and Macc Lad-style crudity. Of course, it’s not supposed to be taken seriously, but it’ll be down to your personal taste as to whether you find it funny or just banal. For me, it doesn’t spoil the album because musically, the songs are pretty strong, but I still have to wonder, would this band be even better if they ditched the gimmicks? They’ve obviously got the talent to write catchy songs, perhaps they just need to take themselves a bit more seriously?
GUNFIRE DANCE. Witness to the Crime LP (Easy Action) Gunfire Dance originally formed in Birmingham during the mid-Eighties. They forged a sound that mixed the brash sleaze of the New York Dolls with the swagger of ‘Raw Power’ era Stooges, together with a very British punk rock attitude. But despite a strong following, which saw them regularly selling-out gigs at the Marquee and even headlining at New Yorks’ legendary CBGBs, the band only managed to release one EP and a 7” during their original lifetime. Unfortunately, they just weren’t what the music biz were looking for and, under such blinkered eyes, the men behind the desks couldn’t see the bands’ real talent for what it was. Regardless, the band had a studio-session recorded by Brian James and Rat Scabies, which still sounds great and provides a good chunk of the material featured here. This album also features tracks from their ‘Killing Time’ EP (now a much sought-after and expensive collectors’ item) and their US-only 7”, ‘Suit & Tie’. During their time, they shared stages with the likes of Jayne County, Thee Hypnotics and NY Loose, whilst after their split, members went on to play with Brian James and Walter Lure. People who knew the real deal recognised them and embraced their sounds. After their premature demise, the band did attempt a return in 2005, but this was cut-short due to the untimely death of frontman Ant. This collection of original recordings, all remastered to full effect, will serve as their final testament, but what a great way to go!
THE GYMSLIPS. Rocking with The Renees CD (Optic Nerve) I remember hearing The Gymslips back at the time and not being too impressed, so I wasn’t expecting too much from this reissue. However, I’m glad to say that I was very-much wrong! This is a great album and all I can think is that I originally heard one of the bands’ less-representative songs, because most of the tracks included here are brash, catchy melodic punk rock. The Gymslips mixed raw punk (Ramones, Buzzcocks) with indie-pop sensibilities, Sixties Mod and witty, street-level lyrics. Attitude-wise, they were no-nonsense rockers (‘Renees’ was a slang-name for Mod-girls in the late Sixties) unafraid to turn up their guitars or their attitude. John Peel became a big supporter and they toured with the likes of the Dolly Mixtures. The album had a good reception when it was first released in 1983, but problems resulted in a big line-up change (only Paula Richards remained from the original band) by the time they released their final single, ‘Evil Eye’, in 1985, after which they broke-up. Listening to this record now, I really wish I’d paid more attention when they were around. Although their songs were mostly based around the three-chord ethic, they were also adept at incorporating insistent vocal harmonies and interesting twists within their arrangements, elevating their songs from good to great. You’ll often hear brief riffs borrowed from other bands appearing in their songs, whilst their excellent cover of Suzi Quatro’s ’48 Crash’ is offset against their less-likely version of the theme music from TV show ‘Angels’! There’s lots to enjoy on this album and you’ll also get a bonus EP (‘Silly Egg’) with this reissue, so no excuses, this is something you really need to hear. Go and get yourself a copy now!
HAROLD TURGIS. The Sentinels, cassette (Noble Lowndes Annuities) First thing, ‘Harold Turgis’ is the name of the project, not the actual person producing this music, and ‘The Sentinels’ is the second cassette from this experimental, electronic project. Musically, it recalls some of the early releases on the Industrial label, exploring minimalist sounds and rhythms whilst delving into different sonic moods and atmospherics. At times it produces soundtrack-like qualities, suggesting images that veer from dreamlike through to nightmarish. These recordings may be a bit lo-fi in approach, but the results are pretty impressive and certainly bode well for future releases. This is something that will appeal to fans of Throbbing Gristle and (certain releases by) Coil, where they explore dark ambient sounds. If that appeals to you, then you should investigate further; haroldturgis.bandcamp.com
INSONIKA. Pithos CD (insonikaband.bandcamp.com) Hard rock band from Jonkoping in Sweden, where the band have already self-released one EP and one album prior to this latest record. Having been together for over five years, they have developed their own style, based around stoner-rock riffs but also unafraid to temper the heavier chords with slower, more melodic breaks and even vocal harmonies. They also use keyboards to add further depth and it all makes for an intriguing and enjoyable sonic-excursion. The excellent production allows plenty of space for them to mix powerful repetition with catchy hooks and heavy rhythms with insistent vocals. It’s difficult to compare this album to any other bands because, frankly, I can’t think of anyone else doing anything like this at the moment, although certain moments had me recalling early Soundgarden and I’m sure that the likes of Black Sabbath and Led Zepellin are in there somewhere. They’ve already established a strong following on the live circuit in Sweden, so I can only hope we get a chance to see them in the UK soon. This album is highly recommended.
KIRKBY KISS Ouroborus EP (https://kirkbykiss.bandcamp.com) Kirkby Kiss are a hardcore band from New Jersey, but while they obviously come from the roots of that genre, their real strength lays in the way that they twist and subvert their sound to draw-out the more interesting elements. As I’ve said before, extreme music ceases to be extreme if that’s all you play or listen to. In much the same way that Fucked Up have made their mark by bringing unexpected influences into their songs, Kirkby Kiss make music that’s powerful and at times brutal, but also temper those sounds with softer instrumentation and, whilst the vocals are raw and aggressive, they also effectively carry the melodies during the more chaotic musical moments. Kirkby Kiss create contrast within what they’re doing, ensuring that things don’t become one-dimensional or predictable (something that many supposed ‘extreme’ bands fail to grasp.) The results are invigorating and surprisingly enjoyable, although never relinquishing the raw power that underpins their sound. Kirkby Kiss are a band who take all the best things about hardcore but instead of playing-safe, seem intent on taking it forward. If you enjoy music that’s powerful and creative, this is something that I think you’ll enjoy.
THE MUTANTS. Curse of the Easily Amused CD (Liberation Hall) Formed in 1977, The Mutants were an important part of San Francisco’s early punk rock scene. Like many of their contemporaries (Avengers, Dils, Crime etc) they may have been initially inspired by The Ramones but The Mutants took their own direction, combining music with an Art School attitude to create something not so far removed from what Devo or Talking Heads were doing around the same time. Although fronted by Fritz Fox, they also included two female singers, Sue White and Sally Webster, to add further depth to their delivery and their provocative live shows quickly built a strong local following for the band, spanning the punk, new wave and alternative-Art crowds. But for some reason, it took them several years before they would release their first record, the self-titled EP on local label 415 Records in 1980. It would then take another two years before their one and only LP, ‘Fun Terminal’, was released, but during that time they still managed to play further afield, particularly LA which they visited frequently and also cities like New York, Washington DC and Boston, receiving enthusiastic reactions along the way. Unfortunately, the original line-up began to fall-apart during the mid-Eighties, although different versions of the band do still continue to reunite on appropriate occasions, when it seems the right thing to do. This new, 14 song compilation is made up of previously unreleased tracks, including eight songs which have never been released at all. Perhaps because it took several years before they recorded their first EP, and then another couple of years before the album appeared, there seems to be quite a lot of material that was jettisoned along the way and is only now beginning to re-surface. But what was unfortunate for the band back then, is a bonus for fans finally getting to hear that material now. Many of these songs have been remixed to bring out the best in them, while others are entirely different versions to the tracks that are already available elsewhere. Musically, they still sound unique and that gives these recordings a vitality that makes them sound surprisingly fresh. If you’ve ever been interested in the early American Punk scenes, this is something you really need to hear. The Mutants took their own path and played their own way. Isn’t that what Punk was supposed to do?
PUSS JOHNSON & SATAN’S RATS. Satan’s Cats EP (Salamander) Sometimes a new record comes along and all you can say is that, if you don’t enjoy this then there’s not much hope for you… Satan’s Rats were a short-lived punk rock band who formed in Evesham during 1977 and split-up in 1978. Nonetheless, they played gigs supporting the likes of XTC, Slaughter & the Dogs and the Sex Pistols, and released three classic punk singles that are still highly sought after to this day. After they split, the band members found a new singer called Wendy Wu and re-established themselves as The Photo’s, scoring a top-ten album along the way. Puss Johnson is the front-woman of Pussycat & the Dirty Johnsons, one of the best punk-rock’n’roll bands currently making great noise at venues around the country. I have no idea how this collaboration came about, but this EP features three original members of Satan’s Rats with Puss contributing her suitably raucous vocals to the proceedings. As an introduction to this new line-up, the band have resurrected four songs from the original Rats’ repertoire (‘You Make Me Sick’, ‘Facade’, ‘Sex Object’, and ‘Year of the Rats’) plus a visceral version of the Thin Lizzy classic, ‘The Rocker’. The original Rats recordings were great examples of three-chord punk at its’ best, with melodic hooks that were destined to stick in your brain. These new versions are obviously more accomplished (after all the band members have had over forty years to become better musician) but whilst they may be technically more adept, they certainly haven’t lost any of their raw power and Puss Johnson has just the right snarl in her voice to ensure that the songs still bite. The Thin Lizzy song also works in a similar manner, with the female vocals adding a sly-twist to the otherwise corny machismo of the lyrics. This is a truly great EP, with lots of style, energy and fun. Let’s hope that there’ll be more to come from this excellent combo!
THE RAH BAND. Messages From The Stars. CD boxset (Cherry Pop) If there’s any justice, The Rah Band will always be remembered for their instrumental hit ‘The Crunch’, which reached the top-ten in 1977. The band was in fact just one person, music producer Richard Anthony Hewson (RAH) who had previously worked with artists ranging from The Beatles and Supertramp through to Fleetwood Mac. But this release was something altogether different, a highly catchy and very danceable record that seemed to take hints from krautrock and early synthesiser music whilst also pre-dating the so-called ‘post-punk’ era. As would be expected, the success of the single was followed by an LP, ‘The Crunch & Beyond’, released in 1978. The album stuck to the instrumental format and included playful, catchy tunes which veered from variations on ‘The Crunch’ style through to more experimental, spacey sounds, mellow reggae and even soundtrack-styled music. It wasn’t a groundbreaking album, exactly, but it’s a lot of fun and certainly deserves to be heard, even now. The second album ‘RAH Band’ didn’t appear until 1981 but still stayed faithful to the instrumental format. It also included plenty of new production techniques, keeping it interesting for fans of the first album, but generally went for a more jazz-funk style, losing the edgy style of pop found on the first record. When the third album, ‘Going Up’ was released in 1983, it included more vocals and aimed for an upbeat mix of contemporary disco and jazz-funk. By this point, it all depends on your own musical tastes, as the songs are clearly aimed for the mainstream. To finish off this box-set, there are also two discs of ‘Remixes & Rarities’ although disappointingly there are no remixes or alternate versions of the material from the first album, which would seem to be a missed opportunity on a grand scale! That said, the remixed material does offer further depth and intrigue to many of the songs, which makes these extra discs more than worthwhile. As I said before, it will all depend on your own musical tastes, but I definitely recommend this for ‘The Crunch & Beyond’ and if you enjoy that, you may well find some great moments on the ensuing albums.
RELIGIOUS OVERDOSE. Strung Out on Heaven’s High LP (Optic Nerve) Although together for a relatively short time (1979-1982) Religious Overdose made a distinct mark that endures to this day. Coming from a punk/DIY background, the band were intent on creating their own sound, veering away from guitar-based songs towards a more eclectic style. Synths and drum-machines were offering new options, so they took the opportunity to see what they could create, whilst their musical influences embraced Krautrock as well as bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Velvet Underground. Although their songs could be highly involved and intricate, they also experimented with a more minimal approach rather than playing everything loud, in much the same way that contemporaries like Bauhaus and Rema Rema were doing. As a result, the songs allow plenty of room for the whole band to be heard and no one instrument dominates the proceedings. Religious Overdose released three singles whilst they were together (two 7”s and a 12” EP) hinting at what they could achieve had they continued. Sadly, they never made a full album which quite possibly would have brought them to the attention of a much wider audience, but this compilation brings together those original recordings and they sound very effective as a cohesive set. If you’re interested in the so-called post-punk era, then this is something that you will undoubtedly need to explore.
SONS OF ADAM. Saturday’s Sons CD (High Moon) Subtitled ‘The Complete Recordings 1964-1968’ (just in case you need to know what you’re getting) this excellent compilation gathers together the bands’ original 7” releases, demos and outtakes plus eight previously unreleased live recordings from the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, 1966. Having formed in Baltimore as The Fender IV, the band played an instrumental Surf Rock style more in line with the twangy guitars of Duane Eddy and Dick Dale, eventually deciding to relocate to Los Angeles. After a chance-meeting and jam-session with Brian Jones and Bill Wyman (during the Rolling Stones’ first visit to LA) the band decided to adopt a harder-edged R&B rock sound, which saw them become a popular fixture on the Sunset Strip garage scene. It was around this time that they settled on ‘The Sons of Adam’ as their new name and signed their first record deal with Decca. However, the ensuing singles failed to be the successes they hoped for and squabbles with the band led to the departure of singer/guitarist Randy Holden (who would later go on to join The Other Half and eventually Blue Cheer.) The band released one more single on the Alamo label, but by then they had lost their momentum and eventually broke-up in 1967. However, interest in their music has remained and quite deservedly so. As this collection shows, The Sons of Adam were a tight, powerful garage band who could match the early Stones in terms of raw attitude (Randy Holden was known for his catch-phrase ‘Never turn down’ when he received complaints about the bands high volume) whilst also being more than capable of playing with quirky melodies in a style similar to the Blues Magoos or (early) Love. The singles and demos included here highlight a confident band with real potential, while the live recordings capture them at their very best. Also included here are original recordings by the Fender IV, showing how their harder-edged approach to Surf-rock provided a natural basis for their eventual transition to garage rock. Together with a full-colour, 48-page booklet including extensive sleeve- notes and many rare images, this really is a definitive document, so if you’re a fan of Sixties West Coast underground rock, this is an album that you really need to hear. You may not have heard of them before now, but you’ll soon be telling all of your friends.
SVT. Always Comes Back CD (Liberation Hall) Sub-titled ‘The Authorised Recordings’, this album gathers together all of the official releases by this San Francisco based rock band, who existed between 1978-81. Their best-known member was Jack Casady, who had previously played in the bands Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, whilst other members had also played, or would later play, with the likes of Huey Lewis, Roky Erickson and Tuxedomoon. However, this band took a different direction and veered more towards a harder, rock version of powerpop, which certainly had commercial potential but didn’t quite find the wider audience it required for mainstream success. That said, they have maintained a cult following over the years and this album, which makes all of their original records available again for the first time in many years, is bound to be popular with their fans. This is a good example of older musicians embracing the new music that was starting to appear in California and borrowing some of its’ attitude to create something new of their own. Admittedly, you can still hear some of the ingredients hanging over from earlier musical eras, but this still sounds pretty damn good. Especially if you have a taste for classic powerpop, this is something that you really need to check out!
UK SUBS. Work in Progress / XXIV / Yellow Leader LPs (Captain Oi!) Originally released in 2010, 2013 and 2015 respectively, these three albums have all been unavailable on vinyl for some time, but are now being reissued as double 10” editions with gatefold sleeves and coloured vinyl. The reformatting also allows for some bonus material as well, making these versions highly desirable for any dedicated Subs fans. Recorded during a period of time which saw one of the most solid line-ups that the Subs have ever had (Charlie Harper, Alvin Gibbs, Jet and Jamie Oliver) it was also a period that saw the band re-establish themselves as a reliable and powerful live band. All three of these albums were co-produced by the band and Pat Collier, which is obviously a partnership that works well and brings out the best from every song. The first of this trio, ‘Work in Progress’, features 14 tracks with all four band members contributing to the songwriting. Songs like ‘Creation’ and ‘Hell is Other People’ among the best songs the band have released from any era, whilst ‘This Chaos’ was co-written by Charlie and Lars Frederickson (of Rancid and also a former Sub.) There’s also a great cover of The Sonics’ classic ‘Strychnine’ which I wish they’d play live…
It was three years before the next album, but it was definitely worth the wait. ‘XXIV’(now including a previously-unreleased track, ‘Workers Beer Company’) continues with the sound and direction of ‘Work in Progress’, but takes a few more twists and turns along the way. Alvin’s song ‘Coalition Government Blues’ is particularly notable, with lyrics critical of the despicable Nick Clegg and his sell-out to the Tories (although many of the sentiments in this song are still relevant) while ‘Wreckin’ Ball’ goes back to Charlie’s musical roots, complete with Bo Diddley-style twang and rockin’ harmonica! It’s unexpected moments like these songs that help to make this album stand-out.
‘Yellow Leader’ features all 18 songs from the original album (previous vinyl versions had only included 14 tracks) so you’ll be hearing the whole set as it was meant to be. The production is actually a bit cleaner in places and the style of the songs is more varied, although they never lack the power that you’d expect from the band. If anything, the variety just accentuates the way that the energy is distributed. By this point, the line-up were at their very best, writing some of their best songs and bringing different ideas to the studio to enhance the arrangements. Although it’s still instantly recognisable as the UK Subs, they still seem intent on taking the music forward and not just resting on their laurels, which after more than 25 albums, is more than admirable. Sadly, over the last few years this line-up has come to an end and although Charlie and Alvin remain, a new guitarist and drummer have now joined the band. The future will let us know how well the new members work out (recent gigs have certainly been on top form) but the situation right now makes this a perfect time to go back and appreciate the line-up who made this three excellent records.
VIRUS. Introvert Extravert CD (Grow Your Own) The first thing you’ll notice when you hear the latest Virus album is that they seem to have gone for a more sparse, less aggressive sound, but as your ears attune to it, you’ll quickly realise that it certainly haven’t sacrificed any of the raw power found on their previous releases. Instead of repeating themselves (musically) the band have decided to explore the possibilities presented by the individual songs, giving themselves plenty of space to develop the different ideas. It’s difficult to really pin-down the results, because there are no obvious influences or inspirations going in to this album, but as a rather simplistic indication, try to think of early-Subhumans mixing with No Means No. As with both of those bands, the music is very idiosyncratic whilst maintaining a melodic accessibility and the lyrics are equally important, with the vocals presented strong and clearly. Subjects range from slavery and sweatshops through to ecology, the monarchy and the failings of former punk rock icons… The lyrics are well-written and thought-provoking, with each song presenting its’ own observations about subjects which deserve your attention. The more I’ve listened to this record, the more I’ve enjoyed it and, if anything, I’d say that this is quite possibly the best Virus album to date. Be sure to hear it
WINTER WOLF. Unwell EP (Academic Punk) I always found it sad that when Punk emerged in ‘76/’77, many of the bands and fans embraced reggae music as an obvious ally but very few black musicians / kids embraced Punk (obvious exceptions being Don Letts, Bob Marley and later on Bad Brains.) However, four decades down the line it seems that bands are appearing from the black community who not only appreciate but also bring punk sound and attitude into their own music. Ho99o9 are perhaps the most prominent, but in the UK we have Bob Vylan and now, here are Winter Wolf from New York/New Jersey, adopting aggressive rhythms and confrontational lyrics to put their side across. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering the seminal influence of Bad Brains on both white and black audiences, but it’s taken longer than it should have. Regardless, it’s great to see things coming together and the more that people see that real emotions apply to everyone, the better it’ll be for all of us. Whether it’s relayed in one genre or another, it can still be real. Check this out and see how much more positive you feel at the end of it.
V/A. 1980 - BRAND NEW RAGE. CD boxset (Captain Oi!) Whilst many writers like to claim that Punk Rock was ‘dead’ by 1980, this compilation provides evidence that the situation was certainly quite the opposite. Admittedly, things had changed, bands had developed and different sounds were being brought into the mix, but Punk as a positive attitude was still out there and in some cases, still sneaking into the mainstream charts. This box-set, featuring 75 tracks spread over 3 discs, has more than enough to remind you of what was actually going on. Starting, appropriately enough, with UK Subs’ ‘Brand New Age’, the first disc moves along with excellent contributions from the likes of Theatre of Hate, Adam & the Ants, The Damned, The Wall, Discharge, Angelic Upstarts, The Professionals and Sham 69, all interspersed with lesser known but no less worthy bands like The Satellites, The Rivals, Victim and The Straps. There are a few obscurities and rarities along the way, which will appeal to the serious collectors and keep you concentrating so you don’t miss anything you may have previously missed. Disc 2 bursts into life with Stiff Little Fingers ‘Nobody’s Hero’, followed by Knox’s peculiar (and highly entertaining) cover of the Syd Barrett classic ‘Gigolo Aunt’. Then there’s the Anti-Pasti anthem, ‘No Government’ before the tracklist veers away in a more eclectic direction. There’s a great selection of tracks from bands as varied as The Fall, Athletico Spizz 80, Tenpole Tudor, The Dickies and the Stranglers, as well as cult-favourites like Auntie Pus, The Quads, Manufactured Romance and Girls At Our Best. This disc contains more of what would now be called ‘new wave’ or ‘post-punk’, but at the time all that mattered was whether you enjoyed it or not! Finally, Disc 3 instantly sets a high standard with ‘West One’ by The Ruts and then delves into an even more varied selection of sounds. How many other compilations do you know of that can have bands like The Boys, Skids, Cockney Rejects, UK Decay, Discharge, Splodge and Menace all alongside each other and making perfect sense? Well, that’s how it was. If you listened to the John Peel show in 1980, you never knew what he was going to play next but you could make a safe bet that it wouldn’t sound like the previous record! Together with a full-colour 36 page booklet providing details about every band, this is a musical collection that really gives you an indication of what was really going on back in 1980. As the sleeve notes comment…’Is it Punk? Is it Power Pop? Is it Mod? … Who cares!’