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Friday, November 13, 2015

Buzzcocks: A Different Kind Of Tension

BUZZCOCKS: A DIFFERENT KIND OF TENSION (1979)

1) Paradise; 2) Sitting Round At Home; 3) You Say You Don't Love Me; 4) You Know You Can't Help It; 5) Mad Mad Judy; 6) Raison D'Etre; 7) I Don't Know What To Do With My Life; 8) Money; 9) Hollow Inside; 10) A Diffe­rent Kind Of Tension; 11) I Believe; 12) Radio Nine.

Not too different, though — same band, same label, same producer, and it's not as if the Seventies were past us, anyway. On both of their previous LPs, the Buzzcocks tried to be a little more than just a «punk» or a «pop» band, and here they continue in the same vein, alternating between short, catchy, flashy statements and extended workouts that thrive on glorious monotonousness. Not everything is equally effective, but, hell, nothing can be on a record like this.

Indeed, the opening track, ʽParadiseʼ, despite its declarative anthemic nature, is their least re­markable lead-in number so far — no serious vocal hook, recycled riffage, and a minimalistic instrumental break that just consists of moving the same riff up and down the scale a bit, exactly the kind of stuff that used to seriously turn me off of classic era punk rock. You might think they're beginning to run out of ideas, but no, this is not the case: already the second song, ʽSitting Round At Homeʼ, runs a few small, but nice experiments with rapid tempo changes, where the slow parts are correlated with the grumbly nagging mantra "sitting round at home, sitting round at home, watching the pictures go" and the fast breaks probably correspond to the fast'n'furious brain activity of the title character. Nothing great, but fun.

The band's experiments with minimalism continue with ʽMad Mad Judyʼ, shot off at a break­neck tempo and, once the barking lyrics are over, left with nothing but its fast, simple bass riff for a couple minutes; they become somewhat excessive with ʽHollow Insideʼ, which is arguably their most «Goth» sounding number so far, but completely tongue-in-cheek — slow it down and get Robert Smith to sing it, and you got yourself a suicidal mantra, but at this tempo it is clearly paro­dic, more like a mocking test of how much time you can stand Shelley repeating "hollow inside, I was hollow inside". I must say that my own patience got exhausted by the second listen.

But honestly, the record really hits gold only with the last two tracks. The title song, with its quasi-martial use of power chords and endless list of robotically delivered nouns and imperatives, has a certain prophetic je ne sais quoi — it sounds neither too humorous nor too serious, but is easily the most insistent track in the band's catalog, knocking on your door like a merciless police raid; they also put electronic effects on some of the vocals, acknowledging the arrival of New Wave and the robotic nature of The System at the same time. And then there's ʽI Believeʼ, whose seven-minute length is justified by several different sections and an inherent contradiction — on one hand, "I believe in the workers' revolution /  And I believe in the final solution", sung in a cheerful and optimistic manner, on the other, "There is no love in this world any more", screamed out over and over like a slogan to a solitary aching chord.

In between all these mini- and maxi-experiments, there are some good old-timey pop-punk ditties about good love and bad love, but we're not going to talk about them because they're on the level of the «just okay» segment of Singles Going Steady, not the «really frickin' great» segment. In­stead, I'll just conclude, with a modest thumbs up for accompaniment, that the album fairly strictly follows the Buzzcocks formula — and it's already getting a wee bit tiresome on the whole and a wee bit irksome in particular places, but they still have fun ideas and have not had time to descend into self-parody. Which, of course, implies that breaking up instead of finalizing their fourth album was the perfectly reasonable thing to do at the time. Ever heard Pete Shelley's Sky Yen? Had that been released as a Buzzcocks album, that'd be one hell of a change, like an entire Beatles record with nothing but ʽRevolution No. 9ʼ clones on it. But it wouldn't get a thumbs up from me, nosiree, uh-uh.

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