Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Stiff Little Fingers - Now Then (1982)


  

Released on September 24 1982

Running time 39.11

By late 1982, post punk had swallowed up punk, two tone had virtually been and gone and New Romantic was well on the way. Chart sounds and also general musical trends were on the change. Personally, although I had loved Stiff Little Fingers for four years now, having their three previous studio albums and having seen them live on several occasions, it was now that I sort of let them go. This album seemed to me to be a punk meets new wave creation with ideas of crossing over into the Tom Petty/Springsteen style of "serious" but upbeat rock. Jake Burns' influences were as much in the latter two artists as with any punks. This was an attempt to put out a far more serious album - a "proper" rock album as opposed to a rabble-rousing punk fist-pumper. To a certain extent they succeeded and there is a fair case for claiming that there is far more musical invention around on here and lyrical maturity than there ever was on their searing debut album. That is somehow missing the point though. That album was successful because of its seismic attack and tinny machine-gun sound. This was just different, while at the same time still ploughing the new wave furrow. Yes, The Clash and The Jam had both diversified considerably by now and Fingers obviously felt they needed to do the same or get left behind. Notably, though, those two groups promptly imploded and split up, having reached their respective peaks, leaving Fingers to carry on, sounding more and more dated, however hard they tried. Yes, this could well be Fingers' most polished and fulfilled album, but, for me, their best was way back in 1978-1980. You know, however, maybe I should give it more of a chance. In 1982 I dismissed it but I do less less nowadays. That can only be a good thing, can't it?

TRACK LISTING

1. Falling Down
2. Won't Be Told
3. Love Of The Common People
4. The Price Of Admission
5. Touch And Go
6. Stands To Reason
7. Bits Of Kids
8. Welcome To The Whole Week
9. Big City Night
10. Talkback
11. Is That What You Fought The War For?                  

BONUS TRACKS

1. Good For Nothing
2. Listen
3. Sad Eyed People
4. That's When Your Blood Bumps
5. Two Guitars Clash

"Falling Down" begins with a powerful riff and breaks out into a mid-pace, early eighties punk/new wave rock song by numbers. Jake Burns' voice is strangely muted on the verses, slightly lacking that trademark angry rasp. That is being a little churlish, though, as it is still a pretty good track. It just somehow lacks that something special that some earlier songs had. "Won't Be Told", after a low-key intro, breaks out into a big, riffy rousing number. Both these songs, while "in-your-face", are far more Tom Petty-ish rock than they are punk. You can certainly tell Burns is trying to change things a bit. Unfortunately, the songs cannot help but seem like pale imitations of what went before. As much as I loved SLF, they always remained just out of the top places in the league.

A reggae cover seemed to be something that had to be done around the late seventies/early eighties. Here, Fingers attack Nicky Thomas's "Love Of The Common People" enthusiastically. It shouldn't really work, but it does, coming over energetically and full of Irish punk vigour. The multi-vocal bit at the end is pure Fingers. "The Price of Admission" is a somewhat clumsy song about male infidelity/fecklessness. Unfortunately, the song shows that Burns can't really carry a slow song. Although the song means well, it has never really worked for me, coming over as trying too hard to be earnest. "She loves you, so she has to open wide, she lets you in up close and blows away your pride...". See what I mean? It is probably the worst track on the album.

"Touch And Go" is typical Fingers, with that trademark double-beat drum sound. New drummer Dolphin Taylor had now arrived from The Tom Robinson Band, but he drums in the same style as Jim Reilly, the previous incumbent.  This track sounds as if it could be from either of the previous two albums, but is not as good as the stuff on there. The riffs are good, though, as you would expect. They could do songs like this in their sleep by now. "Stands To Reason" is a vaguely white reggae-ish condemnation of the media and stereotyped headlines. "Bits Of Kids" again starts in a low key fashion before bursting out into typical SLF. It was a good track, and a good single, but somehow by 1982 it felt like something I had heard before and it was just treading the same old water.

"Welcome To The Whole Week" is an infectious new wave piece of Jam-influenced riffery. "Big City Night" has some interesting, beguiling spoken vocal parts and a sumptuous dubby bass line. It sounds like some of the material on The Clash's "Combat Rock". Fair play to them for trying to do something a bit different. "Talkback" saw SLF experimenting with a brass section just as The Jam had done at around the same time. It was the thing to do - get a brass section in and go all Dexy's Midnight Runners. It is a catchy song in some ways, but I remember at time thinking that I was just liking it because I felt I ought to, out of loyalty. Last up, though, "Is That What You Fought The War For?" is a lively throwback a couple of years to the best of SLF and a good one to end the album upon. This remains an eminently listenable album, but one that always has the air of being out of its time and unable to break out of that, despite valiant efforts. It can't help but sound like a duller version of its two predecessors. You have to put it into context. In 1982, it just didn't cut it.

*** The bonus tracks were from earlier in that year, when an EP was released. Again, the tracks show an attempt to diversify - the dull rock balladry of "Listen", the post-punk nod of "Sad Eyed People" and the dub-influenced "That's When Your Blood Bumps". Only on the excellent Henry Cluney track "Two Guitars Clash" and the 'b' side "Good For Nothing" do we get a flavour of those great SLF days.  ***

C+

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