1) Cast Of Thousands; 2) The Adverts; 3) My Place; 4) Male Assault; 5) Television's Over; 6) Fate Of Criminals; 7) Love Songs; 8) I Surrender; 9) I Looked At The Sun; 10) I Will Walk You Home; 11*) Television's Over (single version); 12*) Back From The Dead.
More or less conventional wisdom has it this way: Just like so many great punk bands, The Adverts had only one great album in them. Having said everything they had to say on Crossing The Red Sea, they tried to say the same stuff in a radically different way on their second album — sacrificing most of their strengths and turning out forgettable cheesy shit. Consequently, out of the two sole choices available to all Great Punk Bands — go on dragging through the dirt for decades or disband — they chose the latter. Curtains.
This story you usually get from people happy with conventional, simplistic models. Reality, however, shows that, as convincing as these models look in theory, there is, in fact, very little evidence to back them up each time you pick a particular case. For one thing, The Adverts did not disband because they felt embarrassed about this album — quite on the contrary, T. V. Smith always talked about how Cast Of Thousands was a good record misunderstood by the masses — and they did not disband because they no longer believed in The Idea Of The Adverts or any such crap. For another thing, there is nothing inherently wrong with Cast Of Thousands.
Sure, it does not rock with the same explosive force as the band's debut — the same could be said about a million other bands, raising hell in the early days and calming down as time went by, and there is no unbreakable law about preferring one side over the other: surely a guy like Van Morrison, for instance, is not a primary object of reverence these days because of his garage output with Them, no matter how scorching that output could be. And yes, it somewhat downplays the talents of the band's lovely bass player: one reason, perhaps, why The Adverts eventually went their own ways — T. V. Smith towers over his bandmates on this album in a way that is decidedly un-brotherlike. Well, it never hurt Jethro Tull, so why quibble before listening?
Somewhat more biting are accusations of musical degradation. Fans did not quite see the deep meaning of placing the production in the hands of Tom Newman, a one-time session guitarist for Mike Oldfield, and of his burdening the band with the piano playing of Tim Cross, another Oldfield veteran — watch his slightly dorky appearance on Mike's recently released Live At Montreux 1981 video to understand that his compatibility with the rough-tough Adverts can hardly be taken as a given.
Nor is it necessarily a good thing to see so many good old-fashioned concentrated rapid-fire guitar assaults replaced by near-operatic bombast: big, burly, overdubbed arrangements that, from time to time, gravitate towards the E Street Band, or even — God forbid! — the likes of Meatloaf. Cast one thought in the wrong direction and you may get the evil idea that T. V. Smith is trying to become a commercial arena-rock hero. It is not that the band seems to be «betraying» the punk aesthetics — quite a few great bands, from the Clash to the Police, couldn't help but be bored with upholding that aesthetics for more than one or two records — it is simply that, unlike those others, they seem to have taken quite the wrong road to betrayal.
But if Cast Of Thousands let down expectations back in 1979, there is no reason why it should still be judged according to those expectations of a long-gone era. In retrospect, it is simply less of a bare-bones rock'n'roll album. Yet T. V. Smith's gift for songwriting is still there, and so is his artistic dedication. The whole thing is a bit more tragic, a desperate lament to the disillusionment of the punk movement, some say, but every bit as sincere and emotionally ravaging. Tim Cross is actually an excellent addition, contributing lovely «sub-melodies» throughout. And as for the cheapening of the guitar sound, well, Howard Pickup was never all that hot as a player to begin with. It's the de-emphasis of the bass, really, that saddens me the most.
The title track and 'I Looked At The Sun' are the two staggering highlights — total punkish abandon given an almost Phil Spector sheen, pompous, but also ass-kicking and catchy anthems on which even the synthesizer parts feel completely at home (but their somewhat «progressive» inclinations, of course, must have provoked quite a few spasms of rage among British teenagers). The lead single, 'Television's Over', puts the same Big Gloss mantle on the band's Gothic ways of expression (with doom-laden harmonies on the chorus and Cross' keyboards imitating funeral bells). More straightahead punk statements preserve the poppy melodicity of old, reminding those who are willing to be reminded that The Adverts were never the quintessential 1977-style punk band in the first place ('Male Assault', 'Love Songs' — the latter almost completely sounds like one of those sleazy barroom-issued New York Dolls numbers). And the closing number, 'I Will Walk You Home', is probably the gloomiest song ever recorded about walking someone home. (Would make a terrific contrastive flip to somebody covering Fats Domino' 'I Want To Walk You Home' on the A-side).
Thus, while it may be too much of a fuss to call Cast Of Thousands a criminally underrated classic, it is fairly obvious, at this time, that it should be at least considered the legitimate second half of The Adverts' story, rather than a misguided, forgettable footnote, and that, historically, The Adverts may have been a «one-album band», but artistically, they qualify quite fully for a «two-album band». The only difference is — to love Crossing The Red Sea, all you have to do is to have an appreciation for the punk rock spirit. To love Cast Of Thousands, you have to have a separate appreciation for the spirit of T. V. Smith. But then again, for some people, it may be easier to understand and love the spirit of one particular person than that of an abstract, never clearly defined, some say musical, some say social, some say cultural, some say spiritual movement. And furthermore, if you hate generalizations and over-analysis, Cast Of Thousands is simply one more collection of well-written, memorable, butt-kicking music bits. Thumbs up.
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