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