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Friday, October 23, 2015

Buzzcocks: Another Music In A Different Kitchen

BUZZCOCKS: ANOTHER MUSIC IN A DIFFERENT KITCHEN (1978)

1) Fast Cars; 2) No Reply; 3) You Tear Me Up; 4) Get On Our Own; 5) Love Battery; 6) Sixteen; 7) I Don't Mind; 8) Fiction Romance; 9) Autonomy; 10) I Need; 11) Moving Away From The Pulsebeat.

By the time the Buzzcocks got around to releasing their first LP, they'd already played together for two years, and even had time to go through a serious lineup change, dropping their original vocalist Howard Devoto (whom one still has a chance to hear on the Spiral Scratch EP — the Buzzcocks at their punkiest, one might think) and relegating vocal duties to guitarist Peter Shel­ley. And even if they began as friends of the Sex Pistols, Another Music In A Different Kit­chen shows that, ultimately, they'd rather settle on becoming the British equivalent of the Ra­mones — exchanging, perhaps, some of their Queens-based brethren's primal minimalism for a slightly higher level of musical complexity and intellectualism, but worshipping, above and beyond everything else, the (silly) pop catchiness of the music.

Steve Diggle's rhythm guitar playing may be fast, distorted, and superficially aggressive, but the music is not triggering a «pissed-off» reaction — it's basically teenage fun, with a Manchester twist. Shelley's vocals have that slightly haughty, but friendly nasal twang that is so common of British glam rockers, and the band has a passion for melodic vocal harmony that shows up on most of the songs — sung songs, not merely recited or screamed over a harsh beat. Likewise, his solos, while not too complex, seem carefully constructed and well rehearsed, albeit still played with maximum feeling. And the tightness of the band's rhythm section once again exposes the myth of punk rock as «non-musician music» for all it's worth — I mean, either the Buzzcocks are not punk rock at all (an open terminological possibility), or this here is some of the tightest, best played, diligently produced rock music of the late 1970s.

While the Buzzcocks are usually judged by their singles, these early albums are by no means dis­missable — the debut almost completely consists of well-written highlights, further aided by hilariously insightful lyrics: ʽFast Carsʼ, dominated throughout by its genius two-note guitar solo (catchy and reasonably evocative of a police siren at the same time!), is probably the first well known anti-car song in history, showing that this pop-punk band may have inherited the love for the simple rock'n'roll values of the early 1960s, but not the love for all those other values that went along with it — "they're so depressing, going around and around" makes this the ideological antipod of ʽI Get Aroundʼ. And although this is the only song about cars on the album, it does allow it to proudly fall in the «Nothing but girls and cars!» category — because, well, most, if not all, the other songs are about girls. No coal miners or soup kitchens anywhere on the horizon.

Honestly, though, it does not matter much what Pete Shelley thinks about girls as long as he writes these wonderful hooks about them, both vocal and instrumental. The band succeeds both with the speedy chainsaw-buzz three-chord rockers (ʽLove Batteryʼ), the slightly slower, more old-fashioned glam-rockish tunes (ʽGet On Our Ownʼ), and the sharper, moodier, artsier compo­sitions (ʽFiction Romanceʼ), showing great understanding of what it is that separates a striking riff from a meaningless one — the riff of the ʽAutonomyʼ chorus may only have two chords to it, but it cuts through to the heart in one bar, a nagging, insistent, desperate drone that fully supports Shelley's claim that "I, I want you, autonomy!" Indeed, this is nowhere near «unique» music, but it does come across as completely autonomous, sounding just like any other punk rock band and yet, at the same time, totally belonging to these guys and nobody else — probably no other punk band in Britain at the same time showed such attention to melodic detail (certainly not the Pistols or the Clash, to whom melody was only one of several factors that mattered, and probably not the most important one).

In fact, Another Music could have been quite valuable as an instrumental album, and it is no surprise that the last track, ʽMoving Away From The Pulsebeatʼ, based on a modernized version of the Bo Diddley beat, actually ends with several minutes of instrumental jamming — guitar solo (somewhat reminiscent of Joy Division's fabulous solo on ʽShadowplayʼ, which appeared later and, for all we know, may have been influenced by the Buzzcocks style), brief drum solo (drum solo on a punk album!), and, finally, the return of the original crunchy riff to bring it down to a grand conclusion. Shelley's solos, loyally following the rhythm rather than playing against it, are always a joy to listen to — in the end, the only song that I am not fond of is the anthem ʽ16ʼ, whose slow, repetitive, bolero-style melody and especially the little bit of chaotic free-form noise sort of disrupt the record's near-perfect flow. That said, the song does emphasize the band's ex­perimental and slightly surrealist side which was essential for them — it's just that it does not feel nearly as natural here as the follow-up, ʽI Don't Mindʼ, which is simple as a doornail but is also one of the finest pop songs the early Kinks never wrote.

The slightness of the album prevented it from ever featuring highly in the critical ratings when it came to assessing the legacy of the British punk movement, but I think that the moment one de­cides that «punk», in order to be «good» or «great», does not necessarily have to make a grand social statement (and the artistic value of these statements, per se, has rarely been high anyway), Another Music will immediately rise up to the top of the roster, being the exact (but idio­syncratic) British equi­valent of Ramones — and who cares now that it came out two years late? The important thing is that the music sounds catchy, invigorating, and fresh even today. And has there been a «punk» band in the 2000s, anyway, that managed to produce something as innocent, memorable, and endearing as ʽI Needʼ? This is like Sha Na Na with distorted guitars and a real, not fake-vaudevillian, sense of humor. Thumbs up, of course.

2 comments:

  1. I Need has a friggin' bass solo .... so much for punk. But of course the Buzzcocks are a punkband; they share all the values. It's just that they are willing to add elements that reinforce those values. They also have speed - they are comfortable when playing fast, unlike most other punkbands, especially including the Sex Pistols, who usually sound forced. For some reason they never made it in The Netherlands, because more than the Ramones this is what I think punk should sound like. So I suppose I have to thank you once again.

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  2. Not sure Shelley's any more into girls than he is cars, George.

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