Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Masters of misery - post punk 1977-1982

Here are collected several artists who came under the extremely broad umbrella of "post punk". They are, in order - Television; Iggy Pop; Magazine; Gang Of Four; Joy Division; XTC; Public Image Ltd; The Psychedelic Furs and Depeche Mode....

* There are other notable post punk artists who I have covered, such as Siouxsie & The Banshees, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Cure, who have their own much larger sections.

Television - Marquee Moon (1977)
    

Although this debut album from New York's Television appeared at the beginning of the period that punk began to morph into new wave, it is certainly not a punk album, yet it hung around the coat-tails of the whole punk scene. It is more of a rock album with late sixties influences, but it undoubtedly had a huge effect on the whole post punk genre and is very much an album that sums up the spirit of 1977. It was far more successful as part of the UK's punk-new wave scene than it was in the USA. Maybe to those in the UK it had that exciting, urban US quirky edginess that appealed, as it did for The Ramones and Talking Heads. They were also an ostensibly punk band that it was ok for non-punks to like, therefore you would get your share of Pink Floyd or prog rock fans saying "I can't stand punk, but Television are ok". It also became one of those albums revered by music critics over subsequent years, who dished out purple prose and analysis that added up to far greater than the sum of the album's parts.

                           
See No Evil is a slowed-down punk meets post punk number with a bit of a feel of Magazine about it and a reedy, quirky Brian Eno-style vocal. Venus has singer Tom Verlaine again sounding very much as countless post punk vocalists would sound over the subsequent few years. Verlaine also has that slightly emaciated, bug-eyed look that Magazine's Howard Devoto had as well, and Joe Jackson. That whole anti-hero thing. It is also very late-era Velvet Underground-ish. Friction is great, so very post-punk before punk's fires had even started to burn themselves out. It is so evocative of those days, so urban, so "demi-monde".

Then we get the title track, Marquee Moon - punk ? At nearly eleven minutes long - surely not. Despite that, it has some simply superb slow punky riffery, great drumming, killer guitar and an intoxicating vocal. It was a rock song, but a rock song for the punk era, if that makes sense. Early Talking Heads based a lot of material around ruffs like those on this track. The guitar-bass-drum interplay bit just before the five minute mark is wonderful.

Elevation is very Joy Division, again before the latter existed. In my opinion, at least. The atmospheric Guiding Light has a lot of Patti Smith to it. 
Prove It has echoes of the mid-seventies in its construction, a bit David Bowie, a bit Roxy Music, not obviously but in there in small nuances here and there. Torn Curtain is a grandiose, sweeping epic of a track that, for some reason, does not quite get through to me as much as the others do, despite its obvious good points. Not sure why that is. Better, for me, is the non-album bonus track, Little Johnny Jewel, which has lots of Velvet Underground running all through it, plus some jazzy guitar parts.

Overall, this was an album that was considerably ahead of its time, and was both innovative and influential. Whether it was the work of intellectual and musical genius that it has since been hailed as is seriously debatable. Back in 1977 I thought it was a crock of tedious old shit, everything that punk was supposed to rid the world of. The paradox of punk was never better exemplified than by this album.

Iggy Pop - The Idiot (1977)

Three to four years after the proto-punk howl and scream of Iggy & The StoogesRaw PowerDavid Bowie dragged his old decadent, drugged-up mate out of rehab and together they wrote an album of decidedly different music. It was a mixture of influences from Bowie's "Berlin" period - fragmented, fuzzy guitar, deep basslines and often discordant keyboards - and sombre, post punk before punk was over soundscapes. Bowie used the album, in many ways, as a kind of musical guinea pig for the sort of things he was considering for himself. He also played keyboards on it and toured the album, again supplying the keyboards. In many ways it is like a Bowie album with a different vocalist. Indeed, Bowie expert 
Nicholas Pegg has described it as "....a stepping stone between Station To Station and Low...". The album also turned out to be highly influential on post punk, industrial and gothic artists, possibly even more so than the Bowie albums from the same period. Indeed, and chillingly, Joy Division's Ian Curtis died with the album still playing, apparently.

Sister Midnight is sung over the jerky, funky rhythm that would form the basis for Bowie's Red Money, on 1979's Lodger album, which was given different lyrics and a slight instrumental re-working. Here it is in its essential, bassy, chunky and very infectious form. It is full of brooding, mysterious, almost paranoid atmosphere. A bit like The Velvet Underground updated and developed, 1976-style.

Nightclubbing was memorably covered by Grace Jones. Once again it appears here in its pure-unadulterated, scratchy and menacing form. the music and vocals are edgy and unnerving. It begins with a drum beat that sounds like Gary Glitter's Rock 'n' Roll Part 2
Funtime is so very Velvet Underground, with a laconic Lou Reed-esque vocal from Pop and an insistent, dirty, claustrophobic riff throughout reminiscent of White Light/White Heat. It also was very New York punk in its sound. Baby is a shorter, Doors-ish number with an enigmatic, swirling organ and buzzy guitar backing. There is a lot of Patti Smith's material from the same period in this track too. The world went on to know Bowie's own version of China Girl as his huge hit single from his bleached-blond hair era of 1983. It is presented here in an unsurprisingly starker, edgier form with Pop singing Bowie's line about "visions of swastikas..." as if there really was something in it when Bowie arrived at Victoria Station in 1976.

Dum Dum Boys
 
is a lengthy, menacing grinder of a track. In many ways the punk meets post-punk essence is all over this one. It sums up the darker side of 1977 perfectly - forget two minute riffy thrashes and poppy new wave, this is one of the most essentially punk tracks there is. Pop's vocal is once again so Lou Reed. The Velvet Underground were alive and well, captured in this song's captivating, industrial insistence. Just check out that chunky, factory floor bass too. 
The eerie Tiny Girls sounds like something from Lou Reed's Berlin sung by a drunken Leonard Cohen. It is enhanced by some typically smoky saxophone from Bowie, who was a bit of an underrated player of that instrument. Mass Production is another extended track, full of the sort of dense atmosphere that Joy Division would come to specialise in. It is this album's equivalent of The DoorsThe End. It was prototype industrial electronica. By 1980, lots of bands would sound like this and release albums with monochrome covers too. Finally, listen to that wonderful swirling guitar-keyboard break at around 4:30. The moody feel developed here continues to the end. It is not a comfortable listen, but it is a strangely intriguing one.

Iggy Pop - Lust For Life (1977)

Released only six months after the beautifully industrial post punk strains of The IdiotIggy Pop was back with David Bowie again, this time adding the Sales brothers, Tony and Hunt, on bass and drums, who would go on to form Tin Machine with Bowie. There were still dark themes running through the album, but it is considered more of an Iggy Pop creation than a Bowie one. The Idiot had been seen as a Bowie album with Pop on guest vocals. Furthermore, this album is far more rock-oriented and "in your face" than the previous one. The sound, like on The Idiot, remains scratchy and gritty (words that often get used in describing the songs on both albums), but it sort of suits both the albums.

The cover is a departure from the monochrome one of The Idiot which featured a demented-looking Pop. This time we were greeted with a smiling, healthy-looking Pop appearing not unlike Liverpool's Kenny Dalglish. All very positive and above-ground. This was a daytime-hours album, not an after-dark one. 
Bowie's self-composed (without Pop) Lust For Life begins with  that lively, pounding and kick-ass drum sound that instantly blows away a lot of those dense, dark soundscapes from the previous album. For the album's liveliest number, it was, perhaps surprisingly, an all-Bowie composition. Whatever, it is a classic track, full of great drums and superb riffs. Sixteen, a Pop composition is a Stones meets The New York Dolls gritty, US-style punky rocker and Some Weird Sin is a Bowie rocker similar to the sort of material he would do with Tin Machine some twelve years later. The guitar solo in it is positively Ronson-esque, harking back to The Spiders era.

A true proto-post punk classic is The Passenger, written, funnily enough, by lead guitarist Ricky Gardiner, not Bowie or Pop, and containing lots of menacing, urban images - "the city's ripped backside...", for one. Despite that, though, it has an infectious riff and a singalong "la-la-la" chorus. Siouxsie & The Banshees did a great cover of it on their 1987 Through The Looking Glass album.

Tonight
, of course, resurfaced recorded by Bowie on his 1984 album of the same name. Here is it is grittier, scratchier and containing an incongruous, Prince-like vocal introduction. The basic melody of the song is there, but the 1984 version is reggae-tinged and this one isn't, being far more industrial rock.

Success is a lively, almost poppy rocker delivered in a sneery, Johnny Rotten-inspired voice. It is a fine example of punk pop. It even has some glammy handclaps and there are considerable later, Loaded-era Velvet Underground echoes in there, for me. Turn Blue is a seven minute, sombre number that dates back to a collaboration between Bowie and Pop back in the former's drug-addled state in 1975. It is suitably rambling and carries with it hints of Bowie's Somebody Up There Likes Me from 1975's Young Americans and the stop-start, dramatic vocal parts sound just like Prince would use a lot in the eighties. It is a difficult listen, though, and sits rather incongruously with the rest of the album. Neighborhood Threat was re-recorded by Bowie on the Tonight album probably better than this one, which, although punky and lively, was murky in its sound. 
Fall In Love With Me has hints of The Passenger about it, although Ricky Gardiner was not involved in its composition. It is also very Velvet Underground-influenced. Par for the course.

Magazine - Real Life (1978)
                                 
Magazine’s Real Life, from early 1978, has a case for being one of the first “post punk” albums. 

From the opening haughty synthesiser sweeps and jangly guitar of Definitive Gaze, this was no two minute aggressive thrash of a punk record. Despite bug-eyed singer Howard Devoto’s Rotten-esque sneering delivery there was no anger here, no rage against the system, just earnest, introspective self-questioning and paranoia. The music was, at times, melodic, almost classically-influenced in its keyboard pieces. It was also, however, brooding, dark, dull and strangely monotonous. I remember being at a Magazine gig in 1979 and thinking how incongruous the crowd of pogoing punks were. The band’s performance bored me rigid. This was arch, serious “new romantic” music two or three years early. I wanted to be punching the air and rebelling, not worrying about my own insecurities. Listening to it over later years, though, I have come to something of a greater appreciation of its merits.

My Tulpa has a deeper Devoto vocal and few vaguely punky bits but it is largely a song indicative of a new sound. Only Talking HeadsGang Of Four and Ultravox were really doing stuff like this. It was “art rock” reborn. My Tulpa even had a Roxy Music, circa 1972, madcap saxophone waling sound. The single and minor hit, Shot By Both Sides, was the one that did appeal to the punks. It had the most punky hook, a fast beat and a leering vocal. I remember at the time, as a punk, quite liking this track, but dismissing the rest of the band’s material as “dull and boring”. Incidentally, the original single mix had a much punkier opening riff.

Recoil has an excellent drum, bass and keyboard, frenetic opening and a very punky refrain. Played at 100 miles an hour, it did, admittedly have an exciting punk appeal. Some great guitar on it too. Burst returns to the melancholic style that pervades most of the album. It is evocative and very atmospheric, however. Mysterious and mournful. Howard Devoto had been part of the early line-up of The Buzzcocks, but he bailed out pretty quickly - an astute, intelligent guy like him was probably never happy with punk’s posturings and short shelf-life. 

While punk’s fires were burning all around him, Devoto was writing songs like Motorcade with its classically-influenced keyboard passages. By the album’s release, those punk fires had lessened and music like this was to provide a new direction. It was like For Your Pleasure-era Roxy Music meeting The Velvet Underground with a little bit of Iggy Pop’s pre-punk punk energy thrown in, added to that a bit of David Byrne livewire vocals and persona. A heady, unusual mix indeed. The Great Beautician In the Sky has almost 1930s Germanic keyboards. There was a unique experimentational nature to these tracks that is reminiscent of David Bowie’s Low and “Heroes” from not long before. The Light Pours Out Of Me is, along with Shot By Both Sides my real abiding memory from the live gig I saw in 1978. Devoto delivered the song manically, like Ian Curtis in many ways, over a throbbing, insistent bass line. It is menacing, miserable and magnificent. For me, the band’s best track. Surely Joy Division were influenced by this. Half way through it breaks out into some superb guitar and the volume cranks up. Great stuff. Parade closes this very interesting album with some almost Parisian sounding keyboards and some (presumably deliberately) tired-sounding but overblown vocals from Devoto. It is all very pompous and pretentious, but, listening to it now, you realise just how ground-breaking this album was. It led to a hundred earnest post-punk bands, eschewing both rock and punk stereotypes in their search of their ideal introspection.

** PS - the bonus tracks include the single mix of Shot By Both Sides, the punky My Mind Ain't So Open (with more Roxy Music saxophone) and Touch And Go. Also, a superbly camp rendition of Goldfinger. Check it out. It's worth it.


Magazine - The Correct Use Of Soap (1980)

This was post-punk band Magazine's third studio album and is a pretty impressive one, very much catching the spirit of 1980, after punk but before new romantic. Their sound was all jangling, stabbing guitars, pounding drums, mysterious keyboards topped of by weird-looking singer Howard Devoto's classic post-punk voice.

Because You're Frightened is a superb, lively opener with a riff that sounds a lot like the one The Clash used on 1981's Police on My Back. This is as loose and melodic as Magazine had been thus far. Model Worker was even more so, surprisingly, sounding a bit like The Buzzcocks with its frantic, riffy beat and bleaty vocal. I'm A Party is a mannered, posturing post-punk veering to new romantic song. You Never Knew Me has distinct echoes of Soft Cell's Marc Almond in Howard Devoto's vocal delivery. The song also features some excellent guitar and bass lines and an atmospheric piano and bass interplay bit near the end.

Philadelphia is a very post-punk number that just has that very 1979-81 vibe to it that is difficult to describe but if you hear it it takes you to that era. 
I Want To Burn Again could have come straight from Lou Reed's 1973 Berlin album. again, it is very typical of its age and genre. The band's cover of Sly & The Family Stone's Thank You (Faletin' Me Be Mice Elf Again) is unexpected, but beautifully and deeply bassy. Post-punkers could do drug-crazed urban funk, it seems. Sweetheart Contract is another very archetypal post-punk number, while the slight funky edge returns on Stuck.

They saved the best to last on this album. A Song From Under The Floorboards is a Soft Cell-ish slow burning masterpiece in the style of The Light Pours Out Of Me. It is full of great keyboard runs, wonderful guitar, bass and one of Devoto's best vocals. Great stuff. Magazine split the following year after only one more album. This, and Real Life were their best offerings.

Gang Of Four - Entertainment (1979)
                           
As a punk, back in 1979, I certainly wasn't keen on "post punk". I saw many bands like this live - Magazine, Gang Of Four, Joy Division, Doll By Doll, the original Ultravox and so on. They actually left me quite cold at the time - earnest, miserable, introspective student types playing bleak sounding music and singing in detached, dull voices. I wanted proper funk excitement - The Clash, The Jam, The Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers and the like. Unfortunately, they were morphing into something else too. True punk, 76-78 style was over and many bands were like this by now. Siouxsie & The Banshees always had been, and The Buzzcocks too, to be honest. "Post punk", was in many ways, punk with less of the hundred mile an hour pogoing numbers, but the same bleak outlook and dense, urban guitar-driven sound. In later years, I have come to appreciate these albums a lot more and every now and again I listen to this. I certainly wouldn't have done in 1979.

Ether has typical post punk staccato drums and insistent, monotone vocals, a somewhat grim message and it also manages to get some melodica-dubby parts in to it near the end. The other regular sonic presence on post punk tracks is a stabbing, choppy, scratchy guitar. 

Natural's Not In It is full of those. "Fornication makes you happy, no escape from society.." they sing showing that also the sound is labelled as "post punk", the old nihilistic, no future punk lyrical themes are still strongly there. More post punk guitar and a throbbing bass line introduces the stark Not Great Men. "Your kiss so sweet, your sweat so sour..." they sing on the atmospheric, strangely addictive Damaged Goods, which also has a killer, rumbling bass line and some solid drums.

To be honest, most of the tracks sound very similar. There is not too much to distinguish between them. The lyrics are probably a bit dated now, but there is a certain nostalgia to them. It is about the atmosphere and the sound. The tight drum, guitar and bass sound still resonates. Listen to Guns Before Butter for a fine example. Or the choppy riffs of Found That Essence Rare where the singer (Andy Gill?) rants on about girls in bikinis in 1954. It is a desolate, miserable album, to be honest, it is not going to lift your spirits, but there is a dark energy and attack to it which still comes across. In many ways it is a punk album, in my view. "Punk", "Post Punk"  - there was not really too much difference in this to Siouxsie's material or that of The Buzzcocks, yet they were considered punks and Gang Of Four post punks. Play this loud for a quick half hour or so and it still has something.

"Take some aspirin or some paracetamol..", Gill advises on Glass. Thanks for the advice, doctor. He then goes on to tell us in Contract how he "struggles in the bedroom...". Some wry, interesting lyrics on here, that's for sure. Have to give a thumbs up to the superb throbbing bass intro to At Home He's A Tourist too.

Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)
                        
I distinctly remember first seeing Ian Curtis singing with Joy Division on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" for the first time and just thinking "what he hell was that?". This totally wired-up, frankly disturbed-looking weird bloke jerking, as if electrocuted, to a dense, throbbing sombre beat. It all seemed most bizarre and it took me a while to get into Joy Division. Indeed, I have probably appreciated them more in the last twenty years or so than I ever did at the time, when, for a while they simply weren't for me. That said, this was a completely innovative, ground-breaking piece of work and has rightly been acknowledged thus in the subsequent years.

Magazine and Public Image Ltd had started the whole "post punk" thing, but this pretty much wrote the handbook. Dark, brooding, industrially heavy rhythms. Scratchy, metallic guitars. Thumping, sonorous drums. Rumbling deep bass. Introspective, creepily haughty-sounding vocals. It is all so atmospheric and evocative of those dark evenings of 1979-1981. Even the cover is monochrome and full of foreboding.

Not much had been recorded like this before - the rhythmic but disturbing Disorder hits like a steam hammer. Day Of The Lords continues in the same vein. Just listen to that huge bass on the morose, enervating Candidate. Also the doom-laden portentous lyrics. It all seems to point to some sort of miserable apocalypse, with the population dying in its own depression.

Insight has an intoxicating, deep throbbing rhythm and some wonderful electronic sound effects a minute or so in, as the insistent guitar and programmed drum beat continues, inexorably, like some nightmare you can't shake off. The "when we were young" bit brings to mind Roxy Music's If There Is Something
New Dawn Fades has echoes of David Bowie in places on the vocals. Or maybe Bowie's later work had echoes of this? She's Lost Control has always been a favourite of mine, with its eighties electronic percussion sound and beguiling vocals. Shadowplay is another good one. The whole sound influenced so many "electronica" bands. Ultravox's Vienna album is full of influences from here as is much of Gang Of Four's material. Peter Hook's bass on Wilderness is simply sublime. Booming but melodic in its massiveness. Interzone is as rocking as they ever get, with a faster drumbeat and a punky vocal. Things slow down for the spooky, "Heroes"-esque I Remember Nothing that also has real hints of The DoorsThe End about it and some weird breaking-glass noises too. You actually think something has broken in your room at the beginning. This album is certainly no uplifting one, but it gets under your skin and you become oddly addicted to it.

Joy Division - Closer (1980)

From the jagged, edgy opening of Atrocity Exhibition, with its addictive drum rhythm and grinding guitar interjections, and the dour, self-explanatory and very atmospheric Isolation, this is an even more challenging album than their debut from the previous year, Unknown Pleasures. The group push the "post-punk" boundaries even further into the realms of paranoid introspection. They really were a perplexing, inventive group - yes there were others with a similar sound and dour image, but none did it quite so genuinely disturbingly as Joy Division. I have to say that Atrocity Exhibition, turned up loud, sounds marvellous. Totally infectious.

Tracks like Passover are classic examples of the Joy Division sound - pounding, doleful drums, big rumbling bass, mysterious keyboards and quirky vocals. It is one of the album's best cuts. 
Colony ploughs the same furrow, as also does the ghostly A Means To An End. It is all pretty unnerving stuff. They sort of re-wrote what "rock" music, whatever you call it, was about, for a short while, at least, setting a new benchmark for musical misery. However, bassist Peter Hook scoffs at how influential they have been subsequently considered to have been, saying that they were just kids who hadn’t got a clue what they were doing. 

Ian Curtis was said to have hated the album and there was considerable intra-band tension around at the tine of the album’s completion. Nobody could have predicted the tragic denouement, however, as Curtis heartbreakingly took his own life at the age of twenty-three a few months before its release. The rest of the band, understandably traumatised, could not stand to listen to the album, it is said, and re-launched themselves as the eventually more dance-oriented New Order. After Curtis's untimely death, they regrouped and continued in the same vein until it was clear they couldn't keep putting out stuff like this and reinvented themselves as an upbeat, positive dance music group, mastering that particular genre. The charts at the time were full of effervescent, tuneful new wave material, lively, joyful ska, commercial reggae and poppy disco-ish stuff was still around and it was probably a wise move as they sensibly avoided putting out a stream of depressingly bleak albums. Despite New Order’s more accessible, upbeat sound, though, the foundations for much of the bedrock of their sound were laid down here - the seeds were sown, just listen to that intoxicating bass line on the beguiling Heart And Soul and the metronomic drum sound too. This material influenced so many subsequent bands, both in the comparatively short-lived post punk genre and the dance-rock music boom beyond.

There is more sumptuous, industrial bass on Twenty Four Hours. Despite being very adventurous in the UK in 1979-80, this is all very much created under the influence of the Krautrock German bands - Kraftwerk, Neu! and Can and, of course, David Bowie's late seventies work, although he never was as gloomy as this. A sombre, insistent track like The Eternal is rock noir, if there was such a thing. Deep and dark. The only thing coming close at the time was Talking HeadsThe OverloadDecades is very similar. This album, if anything, was even more dour than its predecessor. Beautifully dour, at times, however. Personally I quite like an occasional half hour or so of it. It sort of gets into your system. I wouldn't want to listen to little else, though. The 2007 remasters of both albums are excellent, too. The bass sound is really highlighted and there is a warmth and depth to the sound.

XTC - White Music (1978)


1978 was an exciting time for music - acts considered part of the punk scene such as The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Boomtown Rats and Elvis Costello were breaking through into the charts and appearing regularly on Top Of The Pops, the old supposed "dinosaurs" were still putting out good stuff, seemingly oblivious to punk and disco, although reviled by many, was exciting and vibrant. Why then, did the next batch of "punks" to appear on the scene decide not to be politically-motivated rabble-rousers but come across as somewhat dour, faceless "intellectual" geeks, producing music that was actually quite dull? This sort of went against the supposedly "up and at 'em" excitement of punk, didn't it? Anyway, within a short period of time it had led to post punk and a fair amount of supposedly punk bands sounded like Swindon's XTC. 
The key to the sound was a monotonous, rumbling bass sound, metronomic drums, quirky, jumpy vocals and a general darkness of ambience that prevailed, however fast the music may have been.


In many ways, this, XTC's debut from 1978, was typical of this sort of thing, a sound that had given us Magazine and would soon give us groups like Gang Of Four and the pre-synth version of Ultravox. For me, a lot of the untramelled excitement of punk was already being lost as groups like this became ten a penny. To be fair, XTC were a bit better than mere also-rans, but I'm sure you get my drift. Indeed, they undoubtedly influenced those very groups, so they were unfortunate in that they are rarely given credit for that. 


Radios In Motion has a great bass intro and some typically 1978 punk riffs, although the vocal is very mannered, in that way that punk vocalists were expected to sound. I can't effectively describe it, but I'm sure you know what I mean you hear it. The rock 'n' roll-influenced "ba-ba-yoo" backing vocals sound very clumsy, however.

Cross Wires is also very 1978 punk-by-numbers, featuring some Attractions-style organ too. It now sounds quite home-made and dated, I have to say. This Is Pop? is an improvement, a song that asks the very-1978 question of exactly what should music be all about. It seemed to be something that often came into punk lyrics, along with exhortations not to listen to the accursed mainstream radio. Do What You Do seemed to be adhering to the tenet that "punk" needed to be played at absolutely breakneck pace. Despite its obvious energy, it still sounds somewhat dull to me and it did at the time, I recall, despite my liking for fast punk.

Statue Of Liberty has singer Andy Partridge going all Elvis Costello-Joe Jackson in a more appealing number that utilises a very early Attractions sound, complete with swirling organ. Amazingly, what we get now is an interesting white dub cover of dinosaur Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower. Partridge's voice sounds a lot like Steve Harley here and I actually really like it. For all the punks' supposed dismissal of the old guard, it was all a bit of a show. This contains a great bluesy harmonica solo too. Who would have thought it? I have to admit that I find this track quite a fascinating little curio. At nearly six minutes long, it is their Police And Thieves or Johnny Was. 


Into The Atom Age sounds very Boomtown Rats with its "da-da-da-dahhhh" backing vocal and its other vocals Bring to mind The Jam's Bruce Foxton. I'll Set Myself On Fire has Partridge going all vocally jerky in stereotypical post-Rotten punky way. Quite why so many punk vocalists felt the needed to bleat and hiccup remains a mystery. The track has some good instrumental breaks, though. I'm Bugged delivered a most typical deep, throbbing bassy post punk blueprint as Partridge moaned about the very punk culture he was supposedly trying to break into. It was the very culture whose coat-tails he was hanging onto. Without punk, he would have had to play prog rock and sing about wizards. It is an effective track, however and I like it. The beautifully bassy New Town Animal In A Furnished Cage is quite unique in its ambience and Spinning Top has an irresistible white reggae groove to it that I really like. Neon Shuffle is a frantic, organ-driven closer that leaves me thinking that maybe this wasn't such a dull album after all. It is actually not a bad debut, its problem was that was so much better stuff around at the same time.


** The group's first 45, Science Friction, was an enjoyable but typically second division punk single. She's So Square has the group moaning about someone stuck in 1967 (nothing wrong with that) while Dance Band comes up with a great bass line and a groovy little melody.


XTC - Drums And Wires (1979)

XTC were one of those bands that were known to me in 1978-79 but I was never bothered about them much, apart from their one massive hit, which I did like. I saw them as most definitely second division - earnest, dull, unremarkable and parochial student types that didn't hold the appeal to me of angry tub-thumpers like Joe Strummer or Paul Weller, clever lyricists like Elvis Costello or animated characters like Ian Dury. They were a sort of bridging point between punk and post punk and, for reasons that I have tried to explain, they just didn't really inspire my interest.

Anyway, this was their most successful album, from 1979, and is considered by those who know more about them than I do to be their best offering. It is actually ok, if a little dated now, and I am able to appreciate it. At the time, though, I heard their stuff on John Peel's show and it sort of washed over me., failing to grab my attention, apart from that one song, of course.


The album starts with the band's best-known song and biggest hit, the staccato and highly infectious Making Plans For Nigel. It is a great song, with interesting lyrics, several hooks and a killer guitar backing. It fully deserves its regular placing on many people's new wave playlists. Helicopter is a sort of Boomtown Rats try to go punk-disco piece of frantic quirkiness. There you go, I've used the word quirky, a word seemingly synonymous with XTC like curmudgeonly is for Van Morrison and acerbic for Elvis Costello. I like the rumbling bass line on the vaguely white reggae-ish guitar-driven skank of Day In Day Out. It taps into the contemporary trend for these sort of rhythms, championed, of course, by The Police. It is one of the album's better cuts. Also carrying some appeal is the Talking Heads-esque jumpiness of Where You're Near Me I Have Difficulty. The vocals seem to be deliberately affecting David Byrne's style. That Talking Heads geeky nerviness is clearly something that XTC aspired to creating themselves. That it succeeded didn't stop the "poor man's Talking Heads" brickbats being thrown at them.


I am also impressed by the melodious new-wavey chug of Ten Feet Tall while Roads Girdle The Globe utilises that old white reggae groove again behind a robust slow punk thump. It has hints of The Buzzcocks about it, for me. Also slightly reggae-ish is the upbeat ska-punk of Reel By Reel. It contains a brief but excellent  guitar solo.


Tapping into the punk-funk thing was the also very Talking Heads-influenced tones of Millions, which has an excellent lengthy intro and lots of those Heads-ish frantically strummed "wires". It also has some fine post punk style sombre bass and drums passages. That Is The Way is a very 1979 sort of song, with, yes you guessed it, more of the feel of Talking Heads 77 about it. Unusually, however, it contains some fine trumpet work.

Outside World is probably the most punk cut, with echoes of the fist Joe Jackson album to it, in both its lyrics and frenetic sound. Also in the same mould is Scissor Man, which also has some impressive dubby bits. Complicated Game is a sombre, dark post punk groove to end on and is one of the album's stand outs, if only for its bleakness. It ends with a Ramones-like vocal chant that sounds like their "gabba gabba" thing. 


** The stand-alone single from the same time was the jangly, upbeat Life Begins At The Hop, a sort of new wave meets rock 'n' roll pastiche that would have sounded a bit out of place on the album. I'm not convinced by it, failing to be one thing or the other. Two other non-album tracks are the punky Chain Of Command and the Joe Jackson-esque and nicely bassy LimelightThe group also followed this up with two further top twenty hits in the militarily-titled Sgt. Rock and Generals And Majors, both of which were fine, catchy pieces of punk-ish new wave pop. Both very late seventies/early eighties in feel.


Public Image Ltd - First Issue (1978)

A funny thing about the punk explosion was that people such as John "Johnny Rotten" Lydon spent a few years lambasting the "boring" rock music that had gone before - progressive rock, heavy rock, blues rock, county rock - all of it. The punk ethos was born - everything had to be mega-fast, guitar-driven frenetic sub three-minute fist pumpers. Then, after one such album from The Sex Pistols, Rotten (now Lydon), together with one-time Clash member Keith Levene, bassist John "Jah Wobble" Wardle and drummer Jim Walker virtually created "post punk" before punk had even got going for some (The Undertones, for example, had not even released an album when this was released, neither had Stiff Little Fingers). They now eschewed punk and set about creating a new sound.

Perceiving some sort of ill-treatment at the hands of the music industry, (I'm still not quite sure what) Lydon decided to stick two more fingers up at them all, having already done so with The Sex Pistols. Dark, intense, moribund guitar sounds were now de rigeur. Repetitive, occasional lyrics, and, would you believe, indulgent tracks that lasted nine minutes. Such was the tone of the opener, the brooding, industrial murk of Theme with its almost Hendrix-like guitar noodling and Lydon's vocal interjections. It was the very antithesis of everything punk had supposedly stood for. As if it never happened. Those of us punks who bought this expecting more of Anarchy In The UK - why, we felt as if we had been cheated....


Religion 1 is a vitriolic spoken intro, with Lydon in full hammy mode, before Religion II puts the same words condemning the Roman Catholic church to  a sombre, forbidding, thumping bass heavy grunge of a backing. Annalisa was a bit more like it - a full, pumping drum sound, some superb grumbling bass and Lydon's wailing vocals wafting all over it. This was one of the first "post punk" sounding tracks, although, to be fair, Magazine had been there eight months before. The one hit single from the album, Public Image, was a corker, however. A great, searing guitar riff sound, superb sneering Pistol-style vocals and a kick posterior beat. Great stuff, it has to be said. The upbeat quality continued on the vibrant, once more Pistols-ish Low Life which had Lydon ranting about something or other (apparently the hapless Sid Vicious) over a pounding drum beat and massive bass line, enhanced by some Steve Jones-esque guitar that almost sounded like The Pistols at one point.

Attack also has Pistols undertones to it, albeit slowed-down. It is like something from their album at half-pace. It has a furious menace to it to my mind. An insistent nihilism that just won't go away. Fodderstompf is Public Image's Revolution 9 - a bizarre waste of time that has subsequently been hailed as a work of genius. It is not without its plus points, however. It has a delicious continually rumbling bass that preceded that sort of repetitive dance rhythm by decades. Lydon wails away in a high-pitched voice "we only want to be loved....". It was the sort of thing you would hear played over the speakers at punk gigs over the following months, pounding out of the speakers and rattling the whole place as you waited for the punk band to come on. It was, though, a soundtrack to something new. To mindless dance music, to trance-like vibes, man. Twenty years ahead of its time, amazingly. There are some good parts to this album. Despite its negative press (particularly at the time), it was actually ground-breaking.

Public Image Ltd - Album (1986)


This was a fantastic album that mixed "Heroes"-era Bowie with Iggy Pop of The Idiot, The Velvet Underground and many, many post punk bands into one big, muscular monster of a creation. For me, it was PIL's best offering, no question.


F.F.F. positively bristles with pounding drum-driven energy (from the redoubtable legend Ginger Baker on tracks 3, 4, 5 and 7) - fast paced, riffy, chunky and in possession of a killer vocal, with Lydon sounding as committed and as sneering as ever. It is a superb opener and stands as one of PIL's best tracks. Check out that wild, dentist's drill guitar near the end too. 


Rise is also a wonderful number - doing its title says and rising high above it all in its melody and once again the vocals are great as Lydon tells us that anger is an energy, he could be black and he could be white and how they put a hot wire to his head. Oh, that persistent guitar riff too - great stuff, as indeed is the throbbing bass and sonorous orchestration. A behemoth of a track. 


Fishing is massively riffy, with guitars and Ginger Baker's drums attacking you right at the centre of your nervous system. "Go crawl back in to your dustbin" growls Lydon over a pulsatingly insistent beat. Again, get a load of that searing mid-song guitar. Round starts with an absolutely sumptuous bass line from Bill Laswell, some Eastern-sounding rhythms and a huge post punk vibe all over it. It is another absolute corker. Bags is also very bleak and post punk but given great vigour to its thumping drum sound and more top notch riffs. More crazed soloing ensues. Home is also delightfully chunky in a Lodger-era David Bowie meets Fear Of Music-era Talking Heads sort of thing while Ease ends the album in anthemic Rise style, with blatant "Heroes" instrumental sounds at the beginning. Its riffiness when it kicks in is just intoxicating and inspirational. Brilliant. Those military-style drums as well and the sombre lyrics about Susan and Norman - marvellous. It is PIL's equivalent of The Doors' The End. This was a truly great album and a thoroughly unique one. 

The Psychedelic Furs - The Psychedelic Furs (1980)
                                         
This is a leading example of a "post punk" album - full of influences from David Bowie's late seventies work and German "Krautrock" bands Neu! and Kraftwerk in places with a little bit of early Roxy Music thrown in. Funnily enough, vocalist Richard Butler's gruff, sneering tones were very punk as opposed to "new romantic" haughty. The latter style hadn't really taken off yet, so a funky PIL-esque tone was still de rigeur. The album was produced by Steve Lilywhite, who went on to produce U2. You can see that this influenced those early U2 albums in places. 

The opener, India, starts with about two minutes of background electronic bleeps and noises before kicking into a post punk rocker with the vocals I spoke of earlier to the fore. Sister Europe has a deep, sonorous saxophone sound straight off either the first Roxy Music album or David Bowie's  Low and "Heroes" instrumentals. It is a marvellously brooding, atmospheric track, although its debt to Bowie's material is huge. Imitation Of Christ has an appealing saxophone intro. The Furs were unusual amongst their peers in their use of the saxophone. Duncan Kilburn was the player of it here.

Fall starts with an upbeat, almost Northern Soul-style thumping beat before the post punk vocals and searing guitar licks take over. 
Pulse is one of the punkier tracks on the album, a frenetic drum, guitar and saxophone-driven X-Ray Spex type of song, particularly in the screaming saxophone breaks. We Love You has Butler name-checking various people he is in love with - Sophia LorenFrankie Sinatra and Diana Ross & The Supremes among others in full-on John Lydon leering style.

That Bowie sound is back on the beguiling, haunting The Wedding Song, with its PIL meets Joy Division feel and, notably, a proto-rap bit on the vocals half way through. It has a superb big, rumbling bass sound on it too plus some funky guitar at the end. 
Blacks/Radio suffers from a dense, indistinct sound as does the sonic assault of The Velvet Underground-ish Flowers. A pity as they are potentially better tracks than they sound. The bonus "demo" version of Flowers is actually much better, one of the best cuts on the album.

** The bonus track, Susan's Strange, is a mysterious and insistent with great guitars, an early Roxy Music wailing saxophone underpinning it and a new romantic "sha-la-la" chorus. Soap Commercial is a good one too. Very post punk. Their take on Mack The Knife  is excellent, totally unrecognisable. The sound is a tad muffled (comparatively) on the album, however. It could do with another remastering.


The Psychedelic Furs - Talk Talk Talk (1981)

This was the somewhat unusually six-piece Psychedelic Furs’ second album and a truly great one it was too. It was a mix of post-punk earthy sombre sneery attitude and art-rock adventurousness, a step up from their debut album, being slightly more accessible. It has taken me, shamefully, years to get round to properly appreciating this (apart from the one track that I always loved). 

Dumb Waiters is a marvellous, swirling piece of early Roxy Music meets post punk fare, with saxophones wailing all over the industrial strength, brooding backing. Some Robert Fripp/Adrian Belew guitar features too along with vocals from Richard Butler that sound like Johnny Rotten gets a sore throat and tries to sound like Joe Strummer. Excellent start. Could it be beaten? Not half. Up next is the spectacularly wonderful Pretty In Pink, which has always been one of my absolute favourites from the early eighties. From the first notes of that spine-tingling chunky riff to the gruff, expressively sneering vocals - everything about it is marvellous. I adore it. 

I Wanna Sleep With You is punkily urgent - fast , aggressive and in your face, with more of that early Roxy saxophone wailing away. No Tears is a perfect piece of post-punk pop - dark but simultaneously tuneful and catchy. The Smiths must have given this a listen. It has a great bit of saxophone-bass-drum-guitar interplay in the middle. The track rocks all the way through, as indeed does the robust, muscular Mr. Jones, which has a sort of Joy Division meets Siouxsie & The Banshees riff. Once again, the saxophone enhances it brilliantly half way through. Into You Like A Train is a stonking thumper of a track that has some pounding drums and a guitar sound that almost sounds like early U2 and Big Country in places - they too must have been listening. Some decidedly Bowie Berlin-era style guitar drives It Goes On along, accompanied by more punchy drums. Steve Lillywhite as producer of all three groups must have been an influence.

So Run Down is very post-punk in its broodiness and rubbery bass line (you will know what I mean when you hear it). Check out that great saxophone at the end too. 
All Of This And Nothing has a Buzzcocks-esque vibe (I’m thinking of Moving Away From The Pulsebeat) and some more Roxy influences with a few vague Stranglers hints in the vocals here and there. The track begins and ends with instrumental sections that make it sound like three tracks instead of one. The album's tracks end with a really good one in the bassy, sax-enhanced and catchily appealing She Is Mine, which has echoes of Pretty In Pink to it and a fantastic alternate (single) version of Mr. Jones, with a warmer bass sound and clearer riffs. This was an album that, although it was cultishly popular, should possibly have achieved more success than it did, but its sound was always going to make it a bit niche. 

Depeche Mode - Speak And Spell (1981)


Depeche Mode were one of those groups in the early 80s whose singles I knew and liked but whose albums I never explored at all, so here I will look at a couple. Electronic, arty, synthy music was never really my scene, and although I liked the singles I wasn’t prepared at the time to delve any deeper into this style of music. I liked, vaguely, The Human League and Soft Cell as well and all three of them and their synths were very much a part of the sound of 1981-84. Anyway, this was their debut album and it featured the later to be Yazoo and Erasure keyboardman Vince Clarke for the only time.


New Life is a catchy, Human League-ish synth-driven opener and Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead sees the drums take centre stage on a rousing, thumping number. A sense of mystery arrives on the brooding electro pop of Puppets and more Human League vibes are back on the catchy, upbeat Boys Say Go! 


A typical eighties synth and powerful electro drum sound backs the magnificently moody ambience of Nodisco. This is a really good track. A more melodic, less menacing ambience is found on the slightly twee What’s Your Name? Its OMD-style keyboard breaks are attractive, though.


Photographic is an enjoyable keyboard riff-driven number too featuring those big, grandiose European-sounding synth lines while the sonorous Tora! Tora! Tora! is very noir in its feel. The saucily-titled Big Muff is a lively instrumental. Any Second Now (Voices) is a short, Soft Cell-ish morose number to take us into the gloriously catchy, singalong melody of the group’s first big hit single, Just Can’t Get Enough, a track I can never hear too much. Despite the presence of its big hit, this was not a particularly commercial-sounding album, and indeed, subsequent Depeche Mode work would be much darker.


Depeche Mode - A Broken Frame (1982)


For their second album, Depeche Mode, with songs now written by Martin Gore went for a much darker and deeper overall sound then they had introduced to us on their debut album. This album was much fuller and in possession of much more substance, I feel. It has a beautiful full, bassy sound to it and there is quite a sea change between the first album and this one. I have to say that I am really impressed by it, although at the time, apart from the one hit single, it passed me by.


Leave In Silence is beautifully warm and deep in its sound, quite different from the lighter treblier synth pop of the previous album. It has a melodious but moody, atmospheric and appealingly bassy sound to it. My Secret Garden is attractive for exactly the same reasons. Monument is mysterious in a sort of OMD way. These tracks were really showing a group that was maturing, both musically and lyrically. 


The instrumental Nothing To Fear is grandiose in the way that only eighties synth pop could be, sort of Ultravox meets ABBA in Berlin. The album’s hit single was the catchy and quirky See You, a track that had more in common with the first album than this one. Satellite is entrancingly mysterious, but in a melodic way. It is quite hard to explain why, but, as synth-based music goes, I have to say that I really like this a lot. It seems as if Depeche Mode have snuck under many people’s radars when the lists of credible eighties groups are being compiled, which is a shame, because they were definitely one of the better ones from the era. The Meaning Of Love again harks back to the previous album in its poppiness as indeed does the jaunty A Photograph Of You, although Shouldn’t Have Done That is a bit directionless in its atonal experimental vibe. The Sun And The Rainfall ends the album in sonorous, dark fashion, with some deep bass sounds and ghostly vocals. This really was a good album,  most evocative and very, very underrated.


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