Category Archives: punk

Buzzcocks • Sell You Everything 1991-2014 [8CD]

Is 8 CDs too much for a one-artist box set? It depends. 8 CDs of who? How about BUZZCOCKS? If that’s a resounding “Not at all,” then you’re gonna want Sell You Everything 1991-2014, an all encompassing set of (I’m pretty sure) every last minute Manchester’s finest punk band ever recorded up until then. Though this set starts after the legendary group’s heyday, there’s a lot to recommend it.

Sell You Everything’s first disc is called The 1991 Demo Album and is just that: thirteen demos the band recorded prior to their reunion album (and Disc 2 of this set), 1993’s Trade Test Transmissions. These demos sound really rockin’ and it’s surprising that they actually went and re-recorded them. (This disc has also been released as a standalone vinyl album.) Some of the demos were featured on a preceding EP (’91’s Alive Tonight) and the rest turn up on the ’93 album mentioned above. That album is a great one and was a welcome addition to the band’s oeuvre. The next few discs are all of varying quality – and that is, good to great – and include 1996’s All Set, ’99’s Modern, 2003’s eponymous Buzzcocks, and 2006’s Flat-Pack Philosophy. All of the albums themselves feature some beefy, bang-up Buzzcocks material, and all of these discs contain bonus tracks culled from various singles and other sources.

2011’s A Different Compilation, despite the excellent songs themselves, is a mixed bag. Buzzcocks had already released two albums on Cooking Vinyl and someone had the bright idea at this point to have them re-record some of their greatest tunes. Maybe it was a case of the band wanting to have control of their classic material for use in other media (movies, television, etc.), maybe it was, “if this sells we’ll be willing to let them record all new material for the next album,” maybe it was any number of other semi-plausible ideas. Whatever the case, it’s another example of interpretations (basically, cover versions) that are too much like the originals to warrant their existence for all but the band’s biggest fans. I mean, it’s not like you can’t get the original recordings on any number of compilations that are still available if you don’t already have them. Hearing the band thirty-something years later doing “Boredom” or “Why Can’t I Touch It?” for instance, is jarring because though they’re trying to sound like they did back then, their voices just don’t sound like what they once did and so the songs end up sounding like inferior versions of classic tunes. And who wants to listen to that? (For the record, I’ve heard bands like Blondie, Squeeze and Cracker cover their own material and I’ve not been impressed by any of them, either.)

Thankfully, for the band’s final album represented here, 2014’s The Way, Buzzcocks are back to doing new music. It’s another fairly solid album; “Keep on Believing” is a good song with trademark razor sharp guitars, but “People Are Strange Machines” is a bit on the pedantic side. In other words, there’s some good stuff here and some okay stuff, too.

Buzzcocks’ Sell You Everything is a twenty-five year survey that gives you all of the studio material from the second half of their lifetime and it’s eight discs of some damn good punk rock from one of the top British punk bands. Yes, it might be easier to sift through, say, a 3CD compilation of the best of that material, but as usual Cherry Red gives you so much value for the money that you might as well get the complete albums and their singles’ b-sides in one handy box set. After all, one person’s “best of” choices aren’t everybody’s so you may as well decide for yourself what’s great and what’s just good.  — Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Cherry Red CRCDBOX93, 2020)

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Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions • Limbo [2CD]

Every city’s punk scene has bands that made it and are renowned the world over, and every city has local legends who never made it beyond the confines of their own particular scene. Los Angeles, being a big city that spawned many legendary bands (X, Weirdos, The Blasters, et. al.) had its share, and one of them has finally had its day in the reissue ring. PHAST PHREDDIE & THEE PRECISIONS’ entire discography is now available as Limbo, a 2CD set named after one of their records and containing much, much more.

The first disc of this set is made up of Phast Phreddie’s debut, the 1982 live EP West Hollywood Freeze-Out, and their lone album, 1984’s Limbo. These are twenty songs of souped up, angular jump blues/R&B played by some of L.A.’s finest alternative musicians, recorded cheaply and quickly (“live to two-track, no remixes, no overdubs, what you get is what went down”) and with a decidedly punk feel. That’s partly thanks to the velocity of the songs, and partly to the attitude. The Phreddies were actually part of L.A.’s punk scene, so even though they don’t sound “punk” they were part of that world. In fact, read any book on any of the punk bands already named here – and many that aren’t – and Thee Precisions will not only be namechecked but held in high esteem. So, imagine my surprise when I finally heard the band (I was already familiar with their name) and couldn’t decide whether I liked them or not! Maybe it’s one of those cases where, if you were there at the time, you get it, and if you weren’t, you don’t, or maybe it’s just that I can’t get past Phast Phreddie’s singing voice. I’m not sure how to describe it… he sounded like the kind of smart ass who might have instigated more than his share of bar fights, someone who probably lost more of ’em than he won. Regardless, my first spin (through disc one only) left me questioning what all the fuss was/is about. Yes, the band is good. Yes, the band’s saxophonist is Steve Berlin, whom you’d know from both The Blasters and Los Lobos (though his name pops up on a zillion L.A.-based bands’ records). And yes, the guest list is also notable (D.J. Bonebrake, Peter Case, Marty Jourard of The Motels)(and that’s just the guests on Disc One!). But so far something was lacking… and then I put on Disc 2.

It’s got to be Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions’ live shows that made their reputation, because the live stuff (recorded at different live shows and band rehearsals) is what makes this set worth checking out. The sound quality isn’t all that great (what we would have called “a good audience tape” back in the day) but the performances sure are. I’ll bet if I could find some video of them performing it would all make sense. I really like “Only Lovers Left Alive,” their covers of “Peaches En Regalia” and “Hungry Freaks Daddy” (Zappa/The Mothers) and “Stone Free” (Hendrix), and one called “Empty Feeling.” With another twenty songs on the second disc, it’d be easy to get lost among Phreddie’s snotty-soundin’ vocals and the slightly dissonant saxes – not to mention the killer guitar of Harlan Hollander. But after a few listens to this compilation I can tell that those who praise this group aren’t wrong: these guys had to have put on one helluva show.

With Limbo you get, as the lead singer himself exaggerates in the liner notes, “more Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions than anyone could ever want.” Phans of the L.A. punk scene ought to pick this up just to understand what all the phuss is about.

3/5 (Manifesto MFO 46701, 2020)

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The Undertones • West Bank Songs 1978-1983: A Best Of [2LP]

America may have closed its borders to people traveling from Ireland, but that won’t keep legends like Derry’s THE UNDERTONES from invading our ears. West Bank Songs 1978-1983: A Best Of is a new compilation of the fab fivesome’s greatest hits, a 2 LP set that you can order up right now and have delivered to your door while that is still a possibility. If you already know about The Undertones then chances are great that you’ve got at least one record by them, and it’s highly likely that you’ve got some sort of best-of that includes much of what’s on this compilation. Still, old fans like me can always make room for a new compilation – perhaps affording a new way to look at their career, and newbies get a chance to discover a great band that still deserves their time on the turntable.

Most of the young punks’ great songs are here, from their debut “Teenage Kicks” – a perennial favorite – to “My Perfect Cousin” and later, more mature fare like “It’s Going to Happen!” and “The Love Parade.” Culled from the band’s first four albums and non-LP singles (effectively their career from ’78 until they disbanded in ’83; they reformed later with a different lead singer), West Bank Songs is chock full of the spirited, humorous yet edgy punk and new wave tunes they’re known for, along with the slightly distorted guitars and singer Feargal Sharkey’s nasal teenage vocals. What’s missing, though, is some of the B-sides that were as important as the A-sides they backed, such as their invigorating cover of the psychedelic nugget, “Let’s Talk About Girls” or their own tune, “Mars Bars.” Not that you can’t find those on other compilations, such as 1983’s All Wrapped Up double LP or Rykodisc’s The Very Best of The Undertones (from 1994), but they are important songs which for some reason were left off this latest compilation. Still, you can’t deny that The Undertones are one of Ireland’s greatest exports, no matter which random selection of their songs you happen upon. West Bank Songs is a 30 song affair, on purple and white vinyl, with fairly interesting (though not that in depth) liner notes and some pretty great photos, and a cover design that’s an homage to The Rolling Stones’ Aftermath album (UK version). It’s totally worth the dosh! — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (BMG/Salvo/Ardeck SALVO426DLP, 2020)

 

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The Muffs • No Holiday [CD, LP, DD]

When THE MUFFS’ lead singer Kim Shattuck died a few weeks ago, it was a sad day for alternative rock. On the one hand, it was great that the band were able to record one last, solid album before their leader passed away, but on the other, a bummer that their new No Holiday album would be viewed and reviewed with that event in mind.

Unlike many past Muffs releases, No Holiday is a mix of multiple indie rock strains, from the spare punk rock style they’re known for (like “Down Down Down,” “Pollyanna” and the slower “Earth Below Me”) to more poppy and even melancholy ditties like “The Best” and “A Lovely Day Boo Hoo.” I really dig “Lucky Charm” and “You Talk and You Talk,” too, with the lines “I am tired of you/and your ugliness, too/and I hear you can talk until forever.” In fact, there are 18 songs to choose from here, from really short (as in 23 seconds!) to not-as-short (face it: The Muffs don’t have “extended jam” in their vocab, which is a plus), but generally three minutes or less. Apparently, Shattuck and the boys picked out the songs from a batch of unused songs that go back as far as 1991 – basically the lifespan of the band – and luckily, these songs don’t sound like sloppy seconds. Kim said the songs had only been weeded out before to make for “super concise albums.”

No Holiday is still pretty concise and is available on CD and 2LP vinyl (with a laser-etched side four), and makes an excellent bookend to The Muffs’ nearly three decades creating some of the most uncomplicated, enjoyable pop-punk around. You’ll want to pick this one up, yup, and given that the band has now disbanded for the final time, hope that Omnivore or somebody continues reissuing their albums and maybe puts out a career-spanning comp. RIP Kim Shattuck!  — Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Omnivore OVCD-354, 2019)

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Here to Be Heard: The Story of The Slits [DVD]

Here’s a “punk” band that rarely gets talked about here in the USA, THE SLITS. A new documentary, Here to Be Heard: The Story of The Slits, shows that the initially all-female group deserves more accolades than they generally get. There at punk’s inception, the girls – lead vocalist Ari Up was only a teenager when The Slits got going – embraced the DIY ethos that was part of punk, taking up instruments because they figured if someone like Sid Vicious or Billy Idol could do it, then why not them?

First guitarist Kate Korus, first bassist Suzy Gutsy, drummer Palmolive and Ari put together the band and started to work up songs, eventually landing their first gig with The Clash, Buzzcocks and Subway Sect. In rapid succession Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollitt joined, taking over The Slits’ guitar and bass slots, went through numerous managers, got signed to Island Records, put out an album, etc. All of that is your standard “story of the band” fare. But what lies at the bottom – the foundation of The Slits’ story and their ongoing legacy – is that they were pretty much the first all-female punk or new wave band. And what gets to its original members (Albertine says so herself in the doc), is that they weren’t setting out to be an all-girl band in the first place. That is just how it initially shook out. We learn in Here to Be Heard that quite soon Palmolive was sacked and a guy called Budgie took over the drum throne. He, of course, went on to an amazing career as the drummer for Siouxsie and the Banshees. And he wasn’t the only male to serve.

William E. Badgley does a pretty tidy job of telling The Slits’ slightly convoluted story, taking over on a project executive producer Jennifer Shagawat had worked on with Ari Up herself until Up died in 2009. All of the band’s original and subsequent members, aside from Up, are interviewed here, as well as punk/reggae legend Don Letts, Neneh Cherry, former managers, punk scholars and more. (What, no Henry Rollins or Elvis Costello? Were they busy??) Here to Be Heard is a highly interesting and watchable documentary, and the DVD contains an additional twenty minutes of bonus material, including live footage.

Ari Up, it should be noted if you don’t know already, was only 14 when she started the band. A very strong personality she was, and an amazingly talented, driven and complex woman she turned out to be. The band’s 1979 debut album, Cut, still stands as a punk music must-have. Here you get a chance to hear her and the band’s story from the band members themselves. That is pretty rare these days, if you’ve spent any time watching the numerous and sometimes dubious documentaries available on Netflix and Amazon.

3/5 (MVD Visual CADIZDVD166, 2018)

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The Rezillos • Flying Saucer Attack: The Complete Recordings 1977-1979 [CD]

THE REZILLOS – Scotland’s, and maybe the world’s, greatest punk band – recorded only one studio album, a live one, and a few singles in their original incarnation. For years, their records (especially here in the US) were hard as hell to find. In the early ’90s, Sire Records put out a CD compilation that sated those of us who couldn’t find a vinyl copy that wasn’t completely hammered. It featured their studio LP, Can’t Stand The Rezillos, most of the live record (Mission Accomplished… But the Beat Goes On) and a single, but it was missing some waxings that hardcore fans would’ve given their left nuts for. Finally that ball-busting shortcoming is rectified with this 2CD compilation, Flying Saucer Attack: The Complete Recordings 1977-1979. Cherry Red Records to the rescue! With 40 tracks, it’s more Rezillos than any sane person can stand. For me, it’s what I and leagues of fans have been waiting for.

What you get with The Rezillos is a “punk” band – that is, a band that played their songs fast and loud, without any synthesizers, lasers or other late ’70s gizmos, but sang about flying saucers, mothers who say NO! “because you’re not old enough” and girls who do good sculptures. Fronted by a guy/girl duo on vocals (Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife) and guitared by one Jo Callis, the band also featured bassists William Mysterious, Simon Templar and D.K. Smythe (not all at once), drummer Angel Paterson and backing vocalist Gale Warning. Sire Records from America signed them after they’d issued their first single (“I Can’t Stand My Baby”) and put out another single and an album, followed by a couple more singles and a live record. The Rezillos charted in the UK but didn’t cause any harm to the US charts and after some inter-band issues they called it quits. Two different factions went on as The Revillos and Shake, but those didn’t last long, either. And that, in a nutshell, is the trajectory of the original band.

The Rezillos have always managed to stay off of those dreaded greatest punk bands lists for no other reason, I suppose, than they did fun songs about nothing at all important. There was no current cause or fashion to attach them to; instead, the band wore kooky, semi-sci-fi outfits and seemed to actually be enjoying what they were doing. You can’t usually say that about The Clash, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols or even The Damned. Plus they did so many Sixties covers, you could almost overlook their great originals. For covers, how about “Glad All Over” (Dave Clark Five), “I Like It” (Gerry & The Pacemakers), and the king of ’em all, Earl Vince & The Valliants aka Fleetwood Mac’s “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite.” What a record! Why they didn’t put this out as a single, I got no idea. Speaking of singles, the 45 rpm versions of their own swell tunes “Good Sculptures” and “Top of the Pops” lack the energy of the LP versions, which is also a big question mark to me. Why didn’t the record company go with the superior versions on the album? Got no idea.

Cherry Red’s new 2CD extravaganza brings you the studio album and all of those singles on disc one, with the live album, further live tracks and some alternate, unreleased versions of a pair of tracks on disc two. The mastering job keeps the concentration on the high end, though the kinetic bass of Mr. Mysterious still comes through like it ought to. For the live album, I see from various internet groups that there is a snippet of “Thunderbirds Are Go” missing (apparently, from the actual movie), but otherwise it appears to be intact in all of its low cost mobile truck glory. The artwork by Keith Davey is pretty groovy, too, and a perfect fit to the contents of the digipack cover. In all, Flying Saucer Attack is so close to perfect I can hardly stand it.

4.99/5 (Cherry Red WCDBRED705, 2018)

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