BUZZCOCKS: THE WAY (2014)
1) Keep On Believing; 2) People Are Strang Machines; 3) The Way; 4) In The Back; 5) Virtually Real; 6) Third Dimension; 7) Out Of The Blue; 8) Chasing Rainbows Modern Times; 9) It's Not You; 10) Saving Yourself; 11*) Disappointment; 12*) Generation Suicide; 13*) Happen; 14*) Dream On Baby.
Look out, the cocks are buzzing once more (or should that be «the buzzes are cocking»?)! After an 8-year long break, Shelley and Diggle are back with a brand new rhythm section (Chris Remmington on bass, Danny Farrant on drums), a brand new producer (David M. Allen, known best of all for producing a string of records for The Cure in the 1980s), and a brand new way of releasing their stuff — via the PledgeMusic system, which runs on direct fan support. Apparently, the band wanted to find out if it still had any fans left — enough to finance the recording and release of yet another LP — and guess what, either there are still enough people around to want to hear a brand new Buzzcocks album, or studio fees are going down at the same rate as oil prices. In any case, all these nasty generous people have essentially stripped me of the right to begin this review with the proverbial «who the heck needs the Buzzcocks in the 21st century?» rhetoric question. They have not stripped me of the God-given right to say bad things about the Buzzcocks, though, so brace yourselves.
On second thought, though... the funny thing is, The Way does not really sound all that bad. In fact, compared to the last one, two, three... five Buzzcocks albums, it sounds downright involving! First and foremost, it has the absolute best production values on a late-period Buzzcocks record, hands down. Perhaps they went easy on sound compression or something, but the guitars have a sharper, brighter, crisper sheen even when they are sticking to chainsaw buzz — and sound even better when they go for cleaner riffs or a less distorted sound in general. Maybe we have the producer to thank for that (after all, he did work on Disintegration, one of the most magnificently produced albums of all times)... who knows? all I know is that this sound comes in far more colors than the fifty shades of grey on all their records from the 1990s and the 2000s.
Second, it's got a handful of really enticing songs. ʽPeople Are Strang Machinesʼ, for instance, has nostalgically playful oh-oh-oh-oh backing vocals à la David Bowie, nice lead lines and a moody chorus — not that the song title tells us anything we didn't know before, but they tell it with plenty of conviction this time. ʽOut Of The Blueʼ expertly plays with stop-and-start structure and throws in a simple, efficient, and not totally stolen garage-rock riff. ʽChaising Rainbows Modern Timesʼ often gets mentioned as the one song on here that comes most close to emulating classic-era Buzzcocks, and it does, except that I am not too happy about the main rhythm melody sticking way too close to the ʽBlitzkrieg Bopʼ pattern. And ʽSaving Yourselfʼ is probably the darkest, most uncomfortable finale to a Buzzcocks album ever — in fact, this whole record, in light of everything that we know about the band, might be their darkest ever, with way too few songs about boys and girls and way too many about surviving in a strange new world.
I know what you're thinking, and quite a few people out of the few people who noticed and discussed the record said the same things — the Buzzcocks sound old here, older, more grizzled and tired than ever before, and like all old and tired people, they now feel more at ease whining at the horrors of «virtual reality» and all that other crap than doing what they used to do best (debating about the fifty ways to leave your lover, that is). The tiredness is indeed reflected in the tempos (slower than usual), the vocals (Shelley's range and energy has gone down), and the lyrical themes. But if we are to nitpick about nuances and subtleties, this is compensated for by the improvement in texture and melodicity, and by the very simple fact that finally, the Buzzcocks are coming to terms with their age and acting like it — like any other veteran on the field, they have earned their right to complain about the younger generation and its values, even if the younger generation has a legal right to ignore every single word of it. (One of the bonus tracks is actually called ʽGeneration Suicideʼ, so there!).
I almost thought about giving the album a thumbs up, in fact, before I pinched myself back to reality (I mean, will I ever get the urge to listen to at least one of these songs again? Hardly!). However, and I do mean that honestly, this was, indeed, the only post-reunion Buzzcocks album that did not actively annoy me — an album that sounded like they really wanted to make it because something in their hearts urged them to, rather than simply a mechanical requirement like «well, we're musicians, we're supposed to make records, so let's go make another record, even if we know beforehand we're not making any serious money on it». Nothing here makes me yearn for a follow-up, but it's still nice to add another bunch of aging punkers to the small collection of punkers who know how to do it well (like the Adolescents, who, today, are anything but, yet still manage to preserve their integrity).