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Friday, February 4, 2011

The Adverts: Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts


1) One Chord Wonders; 2) Bored Teenagers; 3) New Church; 4) On The Roof; 5) Newboys; 6) Gary Gilmore's Eyes; 7) Bombsite Boy; 8) No Time To Be 21; 9) Safety In Numbers; 10) New Day Dawns; 11) Drowning Men; 12) On Wheels; 13) Great British Mistake.

Arriving on the scene just a little too late to upstage the Sex Pistols, disbanding way too early to scale the epic heights of the Clash, The Adverts are relatively rarely remembered these days among the general public. Still, their debut LP had almost immediately gained huge critical suc­cess, and has never been off the critical lists since then; nobody with even a faint interest in the first wave of the British punk movement can pretend to have never heard about it.
And the critics are damn right — Crossing The Red Sea, an album whose very title is a perfect reflection of its ambitious drive, is not just one of the best 1970s punk rock albums; it is one of the best 1970s albums, period. These thirteen songs (eleven on the original release, which omits one crucial hit single), all penned by band leader and vocalist T. V. (Tim) Smith, encapsulate eve­rything that was good about the punk movement, omit most of what could be bad about it, and, actually, go way beyond the stereotypical punk formula.
From a certain point of view, this isn't even «punk»: the guitars are not inclined towards chainsaw buzz, which sets them way apart from the Ramones, and the vocalist tends to actually sing rather than bark, which sets them even more apart from the Pistols and the Clash. The band had been formed in 1976, and their idea must have been to continue the noble work of Sixties garage and «proto-punk» acts rather than to try and invent some radically new sound. This sort of «traditio­nalism» is indirectly supported by the sarcastic lyrics of 'Safety In Numbers': "What are you go­ing to do with your new wave?.. Here we all are in the latest craze, stick with the crowd, hope it's not a passing phase... what about the new wave? did you think it would change things?"
This sceptical atmosphere is completely balanced by The Adverts' approach. They are here to do two things: write aggressive rock songs and voice relevant complaints on life's various injustices — actually, you could say it's all just one thing. No toying with reggae or electronics, no arrogant post-modern minimalism à la Wire, just simple, direct, accessible statements. Had T. V. Smith happened to suffer from melodic cluelessness, or had his band been one ounce less committed to the idea, Crossing The Red Sea would — today, at least, with the floodgates chugging in tons of old albums by justly forgotten bands every day — be a disaster. As it is, it's a masterpiece.
Even though most of the songs feature the same formula (loud, fast, usually too lazy to even in­troduce a proper bridge section), each one has an irresistible vocal hook, hammering in a specific crazy feeling. 'One Chord Wonders', from the very start, bares their self-conscious attitude, slyly goading the listener into a state of shame — as T. V. Smith, in a Christ-like pose, proclaims how outcast his amateurish band is going to be among the audiences, yet "The wonders don't care — we don't give a damn!", one can't help but admire the self-sacrifice. 'Bored Teenagers' has Smith playing his own psychoanalyst and, in passing, producing one of the year's most sing-along an­thems for the young 'uns. 'No Time To Be 21' is fun to interpret as a follow-up to Cooper's 'I'm 18': the confused, disoriented teenager now adding violence and indignation to his emotional spectrum, just the kind of thing you'd expect to happen in three years' time.
Although guitarist Howard Pickup and drummer Laurie Driver are merely «competent» on their instruments (which they could certainly play with the required energy and dedication, and who are we to demand more?), second important Advert after Smith is unquestionably his girlfriend Gaye Black or Gaye Advert on bass — not only the first ever successful female punk star, but, seemingly, the one band member who bore the biggest brunt of shaping Smith's ideas into musi­cal form. This is why, out of all the possible paths to take when trying to expand on the «punk» image, the band usually chooses the doom-and-gloom thing: 'On Wheels' begins with several bars of a near-Gothic melody played solely on bass, which is still dominating the song even after the guitar and drums have kicked in. (With an atmosphere, by the way, that is way more reminiscent of classic Alice Cooper circa Killer time than any of the band's contemporary competition).
This «evil» streak, just a tiny bit theatrical, but quite realistic all the same, works ever so well with 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes', depicting an imaginary situation in which the protagonist has been transplanted the eyes of a murderer — but the chorus, spat out at the listener in a shower of des­cending notes played and sung by Gaye and Smith in unison, is delivered as a punkish message, so you are forced to read this as some sort of social metaphor — not an easy thing to do — so bi­zarre and challenging — quite an efficient trick to pull it up on the charts. Although far less fa­mous, the «evil» and «angry» sides of the band are just as marvelously matched on 'Bombsite Boy'. Few, if any, people in the history of rock music could deliver the line "Thank God I never compromised" with more power than these lovable whippersnappers.
The CD reissue of the album remasters the original admirably — Gaye's imaginative basslines and Smith's passionate vocals never wash out each other, and the whole thing (produced by a still young John Leckie, later famous for his work with The Stone Roses) is among the crispest re­cords of the year 1978. The bonus tracks, unfortunately, are not up to par — mostly single ver­sions of LP tracks, and a bunch of live performances taped in horrendous quality, a real cold sho­wer after the perfect studio sound. None of which has anything to do with the fact that this album is to be owned, propagated, and, of course, played very, very loud. Thumbs up!

Check "Crossing The Red Sea" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. Oh yes, George, finally you are doing a band I love. Definitely one of my three or four favourite punk rock records. Everything is catchy, driving, and to the point. No meandering, no filler - a collection of tough and tight songs that somehow manage to come off as real art. Melodic as hell. I can still hear myself humming "looking through Gary Gilmore's eyes, looking through..." from time to time.
    Their second album was great as well. Too bad I can't say the same about TV Smith's solo output though.

  2. Wow, you're so positive about this album you almost come off as sarcastic. Well maybe that's just me.

    Anyway, I'm terribly ashamed to admit I actually am almost completely unaware of this band, but on the other hand I'm now terribly excited about them. Yay!

  3. Excellent review, George. TV's thoughtfulness and dissatisfaction with the state of things is as present here as ever. I actually think that TV today at 54 is the genuine embodiment of the old punk spirit, still playing for minimal fees in small places with a mere acoustic and delivering a fiery set every time, sometimes lasting 2,5 hours or so at best. (Who said Springsteen was hardworking?) The cream of his songwriting today is also just as good as Crossing the Red Sea and Cast of Thousands, although the production on his solo albums isn't to my tastes. The TV live experience is the real deal though, don't miss him!

    (Yep, I'm the bloke who sent you some CDs 6-7 years ago, still enjoying your reviews as much as ever!)

  4. Is the album cover showing up for the rest of you guys? It's not showing up for The Averts's other album either.

  5. Showing for me perfectly fine.

  6. Got it fixed, they were Adblocked for whatever reason.

  7. >the whole thing (produced by a still young John Leckie, later famous for his work with The Stone

    I couldn't care less what Leckie did in the post-"Jack Your Body" era, but in his late 70s prime he produced stellar works for Be Bop Deluxe, XTC, Magazine and Simple Minds.