Monday, June 6, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #125

I discovered far too late that one of the greatest "first wave" Punk bands, Stiff Little Fingers, are not only back out on tour, but played in Baltimore this past weekend.  Well damn.  Would have loved to see them.  The good news, according their website, is that their first new album in seven years is in the works.  That bodes well for them coming back around in the relatively near future, I hope!

Stiff Little Fingers, named after a song by The Vibrators, began in Belfast, Ireland, in the mid-70s as hard rockers Highway Star before guitarist Henry Cluney discovered Punk Rock and took the band in that direction.  Jake Burns' gruff, strangled vocals fit the new sound perfectly, and with drummer Brian Faloon and new bassist Ali McMordie rounding out the band, they briefly toured as The Fast before settling on their now-famous moniker.  In early 1978 they issued their first salvo, the single "Suspect Device."  Famously influential UK DJ John Peel loved the record and played it regularly on his radio show, which in turn lead Stiff Little Fingers to a deal with Rough Trade Records.  By the end of the year, they had their first album, Inflammable Material, on record store shelves.

Inflammable Material is as vital to the history of Punk Rock as Ramones or Never Mind The Bollocks.  As one might expect from a late-70s Irish band, this is politically charged stuff delivered at machine-gun pace with barely time to breathe between reloadings, but that does not mean it's not melodic.  Where many a banner-waving slogan-spouting Punk band's songs come across as hyper-speed football chants, SLF's history in hard rock informs their sound. Sure it's basic three-chord stuff, but there is a definite sense of songwriting here as opposed to simple shouting.  With "Suspect Device," "Alternative Ulster," "Barbed Wire Love," and "Wasted Life" among its tracks, it's simply a stunning, must-have LP.

1980's follow-up, Nobody's Heroes, keeps the energy level high and snarl gruff.  Musically, SLF starts to branch out a bit here, especially into dub, ska, and reggae territories hinted at on the first album. (See their excellent cover of The Specials' "Doesn't Make It All Right.""Gotta Get Away," "At The Edge," and the title track were all released as singles, and while perhaps not as immediately memorable as the first album's classics, Nobody's Heroes is every bit as good.

Go For It, released the following year, saw the sonic attack mellowing a bit.  SLF's dabblings into varied styles underscored comparisons that had always been made to The Clash, and much like that band, not every experiment works.  Still, the songs and the sound is solid.  A year later came Now Then..., the band's most commercial effort, despite being a sales flop. The album is a fantastic piece of power-pop ear candy (the lead single, "Bits Of Kids," could have been a Cheap Trick single), and has aged remarkably well.  Problem was, the kids wanted Punk Rock, and this sure wasn't Inflammable Material.

A a result of the backlash, the band called it quits.  A decade later, a new Stiff Little Fingers album, Flags and Emblems, appeared.  Burns, Cluney and McMordie had actually reformed a few years earlier, playing live shows here and there, and decided to have another go at being a band.  Three more albums were released in the 1990's (Get A Life, Tinderbox, and Hope Street), each with different line-ups.  2004 saw the release of Guitar And Drum, with the anthemic "Can't Get Away With That" helping it to reach the same level as the first four albums.  And then, silence.  That is, until word of the current tour and a possible new record.

For today's NW4NW entry, here are Stiff Little Fingers in their early prime with the classic "Suspect Device." Enjoy!

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