BUZZCOCKS: LOVE BITES (1978)
1) Real World; 2) Ever Fallen In Love; 3) Operators Manual; 4) Nostalgia; 5) Just Lust; 6) Sixteen Again; 7) Walking Distance; 8) Love Is Lies; 9) Nothing Left; 10) E.S.P.; 11) Late For The Train.
This quickie follow-up to Another Music sounds slightly disappointing to me, not because it was rushed or anything, but because the band went for a somewhat less humorous, more serious approach here, and when the Buzzcocks are weighted down with too much seriousness, they seem to lose touch with their genius. However, moving one step away from perfection is not much of a crime, particularly when you are still capable of crafting first-rate pop-punk hooks by the dozen; and if you are not obsessed with the idea of drawing boundaries between Album A and Album B in the first place, you might not even understand what I'm talking about here.
"I'm in love with the real world / It's mutual or so it seems / 'Cos only in the real world / Do things happen like they do in my dreams", Shelley tells us in the opening manifesto of ʽReal Worldʼ — and you could interpret that first line either as the epitome of the punk revolution (music that has to do with "the real world", instead of progressive rock's fantasy universes), or, more likely, as just a statement of personal humility — and peacefulness, which sets the Buzzcocks so far apart from the bellicose stylistics of their working class brethren. Indeed, all of the songs here are love songs — some are, in fact, romantic love songs, as ʽLove Is Liesʼ, written and sung by Steve Diggle, begins as an acoustic ballad, and by the time we get to the chorus, we are knee-deep in ʽSugar And Spiceʼ territory: "Love is lies, love is eyes, love is everything that's nice" (okay, so you can sort of see why Diggle is not trusted with writing more songs, but if you disregard that creepy "love is eyes" equation, it's actually a pretty folk-pop tune, well deserving of being professionally covered with Searchers-style vocal harmonies).
Then there's ʽEver Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)ʼ, often quoted as the most notable song on the album, if not the signature tune of the Buzzcocks — indeed, it is a skilful synthesis of the speedy punk song and the bitter love-lost ballad, although, with a little irony, one might suggest that the Ramones did beat them to the punch with ʽTexas Chainsaw Massacreʼ. However, it is not the instrumental melody and its clever use of minor chords, but rather the vocal hook that produces the deepest impression — Shelley has this fine talent to take an unwieldy string of prose, loop it, and convert it to a gracious musical serpent that sounds like it was born to the realm of rhythm and melody. Who else could craft such a twisted, yet natural chorus with the phrase "have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't've fallen in love with?" I bet the guy was a tongue-twister champion in elementary school.
On the other hand, the Buzzcocks are also trying to prove that they are, first and foremost, a musical band — by including two instrumentals: the short one, ʽWalking Distanceʼ, was written by the bassist and features a nice set of speedy interlocking pop riffs, and the long one, ʽLate For The Trainʼ, is again recorded bolero-style, this time with such an insistent drumbeat, though, that poor John Maher must have ended up with even worse blisters on his fingers than Ringo ever did. The problem is, it does not have enough musical ideas for five and a half minutes: it seems like it is desperately looking for a crescendo, but finally gives up on that and just lets the drums take over completely for the coda.
Definitely not a work of genius, that one, and shows that the Buzzcocks are not universal masters of everything — unsurprisingly, it is the short three-minute pop-punk tunes like the cocky, heroic ʽNostalgiaʼ or the sexopathological statemenr ʽJust Lustʼ that take home first, second and all the other prizes. Or even a tune like ʽE.S.P.ʼ, which takes pride in taking one ten-note riff as the basis for all of its five minutes — and somehow it works, because normally you'd expect a riff like that to be used as the intro to the song and then go away, and the fact that it stays forever and ever makes it minimalistically funny. Blatantly annoying, yes, but funny.
All in all, still a satisfactory thumbs up here, despite the occasional misfires and the fact that lightweight funny Kinks-influenced ditties have largely been replaced with heavier and a bit more moralistic rockers. They did want to make a point that Love Bites, want it or not, and they made it all right — after all, partner relationships have every right to cause as much punkish frustration as social oppression does, and where your life has space for Give 'Em Enough Rope, there should be some extra space right next to it with Love Bites.