BUZZCOCKS: TRADE TEST TRANSMISSIONS (1993)
1) Do It; 2) Innocent; 3) T T T; 4) Isolation; 5) Smile; 6) Last To Know; 7) When Love Turns Around; 8) Never Gonna Give It Up; 9) Energy; 10) Palm Of Your Hand; 11) Alive Tonight; 12) Who'll Help Me Forget; 13) Unthinkable; 14) Crystal Night; 15) 369; 16*) All Over You; 17*) Inside.
That the Buzzcocks split up in 1981 is totally appropriate — this way, they did not have to smear their name with ten years' worth of (most likely) subpar material. That they reappeared with another album in 1993, soon after the «grunge revolution» once again changed the face of popular music and removed some of the Eighties' excess, was, consequently, quite appropriate as well. However, as usual, this 2.0 version of the band is yet another example of how, when something gets broken, the cracks and seams will show even if you try very hard to repair it.
These new «Buzzcocks» are really just Shelley and Diggle, with a couple extra new guys named Barber and Barker (no, really, that's their names) in the rhythm section — but it's not as if it was Barber and Barker's fault that the sound of the album is... not all that satisfactory. Namely, the guitar melodies are almost always reduced to the same gray, sludgy, grumbly tone that is heavier and more aggressive than the old «chainsaw buzz» of the Seventies, and tends to lump all the melodies together. I mean, from a certain dialectical point of view «all Buzzcocks sound the same», but when you get down to earth, their early classic albums don't — the individual melodies are rising out resplendently from the surface. Trade Test Transmissions just speed before your eyes and ears without bothering to shift tempo, tonality, mood, or perspective.
It's not particularly annoying, and we've all heard much worse: at least this guitar sound «makes sense» — fast, furious, but pop-styled songs about sex, love, and more sex, dominated by catchy choruses, go along better with this style than if they tried to go all heavy metal on their listeners (like some of the hardcore punk people did). Listen to any one of these songs at random and there will be no reason to get mad. But there's fifteen of them here, and they all sound alike — a far, far cry from those times when, if you still remember, Shelley and Diggle tried out various approaches. You could complain about ʽLate For The Trainʼ being overlong, but you couldn't say that it sounded just like all those other songs. Those guys were actually bringing ideas, plural, into the studio, not just one basic Idea of how you're supposed to plug in, take off, race through, sign out, and then repeat procedure 15 times in a row.
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend even a single song; unless you begin to pick them apart by paying attention to the lyrics (and you shouldn't, because ʽPalm Of Your Handʼ is, indeed, exactly about what you're probably thinking about at the moment), it's all just one punk-pop song with fifteen variations. A happy song, with a thick distorted buzzing rhythm track and melodic lead lines, but that does not excuse it from taking such a large chunk of time out of your life. ʽT T Tʼ (the abbreviated title track, actually) is a bit grimmer than the rest, with a tough-guy AC/DC-style chord change, but you might not even notice without special warning (I certainly did not before I caught note of Mark Prindle's observation on how the song stands out a bit, and I agree).
So, was this reunion a complete waste of time? Well... at least it's not like they really plopped the Buzzcocks' brand into the dirt here or anything. If you are a big fan, even if you too happen to be disappointed, with time you will begin to trace the little nuances between different songs and get happier. They're silly songs, much of the time, but the Buzzcocks never took themselves too seriously anyway, so if Shelley sings about himself as a sexual giant on ʽDo Itʼ, you can be sure he is still being quite the tongue-in-cheek hoochie coochie man about it. I can see where time could help warm up to the songs — unfortunately, I don't have that time, and much as I like and respect the early Buzzcocks, this is not because I feel some sort of psychic connection with Shelley and Diggle, but just because those hooks jump out at me so effectively. It's an entirely different thing when you have to go hunting for the hooks yourself, and Trade Test Transmissions wants you to do all its dirty work on your own — no, thank you very much.