Monday, February 21, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #112

"[Their debut album is] the equal of the first Sex Pistols or Clash LP, a hasty statement that captures an exciting time," crowed Trouser Press.  "[They] captured the spirit of the times few contemporaries could match," declared Colin Larkin in The Guinness Book of Top 1000 Albums. Dave Thompson, in his book Alternative Rock, asserts that they "[spat] out a failsafe succession of songs which still delineate punk’s hopes, aspirations and, ultimately, regrets."

Pretty heady praise for a bunch of kids from Bideford who gave us only two albums in a brief three-year career, but The Adverts more than lived up to such hype.  The eventually married couple of TV Smith (vocals) and Gaye Advert (bass) formed the core of the group, creating both a sound and a visual that is today more associated with memories of UK Punk style than anything The Pistols or The Clash left behind.  (Check TV Smith in plastic shades and pinned-up jacket lurching about in the first clip below; Thompson accurately noted that Gaye Advert's "panda-eye make-up and omnipresent leather jacket defined the face of female punkdom until well into the next decade.") With the addition of guitarist Howard Pickup and drummer Laurie Driver, The Adverts dove right into the epicenter of the UK scene, The Roxy, opening for Generation X in January of 1977.

They were immediately well received, and would play The Roxy regularly during that year, quickly being signed by Stiff Records thanks to having a patron in Brian James of The Damned.  Their first single, "One Chord Wonders," appeared in the spring of 1977, followed a few months later by their first UK Top 40 hit, the sneeringly clever "Gary Gilmore's Eyes," about a man who awakes from surgery to discover the serial killer's eyes have been transplanted into his skull.  (In reality, Gilmore actually did have his eyes and other organs donated after his execution, and several people did benefit.  Gilmore's is a fascinating if unsettling tale.  Go read Norman Mailer's account of Gilmore's life, crimes and psychosis, The Executioner's Song, for more.)

Despite its success, that single was not included on the original pressings of The Advert's debut album, Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts, which landed in stores in early 1978.  The album didn't need that hit single to carry it; it stood quite well on its own, thank you, with classics like "Bored Teenagers," "No Time To Be 21," "Safety In Numbers," and "Great British Mistake" making it an absolute must-own. If you don't know these songs by heart already, you won't pass Punk Rock 101 until you do.

Over the next year or so, The Adverts toured heavily.  Driver, unfortunately, contracted hepatitis, and was eventually replaced by Rod Latler; keyboardist Tim Cross was also added to the band at this time.  TV Smith was evolving as a songwriter, and The Adverts' sound was maturing.  When their second album, Cast Of Thousands, was released in 1979, it was met with some disappointment by fans who still wanted the raw power of the first album.  The sneer was not completely gone, mind you, but it was buried a little bit further back in the mix.  Taken on its own, it is a fantastic record with more outstanding tunes: "Television's Over," "Cast Of Thousands" and the eponymous "The Adverts" are all strong enough to stand alongside anything from the first record.  But poor press and poor promotion from their label combined to take its toll.  Howard left the band, and soon after The Adverts were no more.

But they did leave behind some great, great music, and deserved to be remembered as one of the best of the original UK Punk Class of '77 bands.  I am so fond of them that I am sharing three clips with you this week: first, the band's appearance on Top Of The Pops performing "Gary Gilmore's Eyes," then a clip for "No Time To Be 21," and finally, an audio-only clip of "The Adverts" from Cast Of Thousands. Enjoy!

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