Monday, July 8, 2013

New Wave for the New Week #164

Combining hook-laden high-energy jangling guitar pop with a Punk Rock sneer and a boatload of irresistibly catchy choruses, The Buzzcocks appeared on the scene in the wake of The Sex Pistols' initial assault on UK eardrums in 1976.  The band was originally the creation of schoolmates Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley who, with bassist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher, issued the 4-song 7-inch Spiral Scratch EP that year on their own New Hormones label, making them among the earliest of the  Punk crowd to take the independent release route.

Spiral Scratch's songs are sharp, abrasive, angular blurts that only begin to display what The Buzzcock's sound would evolve into; the highlight here is the leadoff track, "Boredom," which is everything a Punk Rock song should be: short, minimalist, snarky and intelligent ("Now I'm living in this ennui/But it doesn't suit me...").  The Devoto/Shelley pairing would not last long. Devoto was more interested in exploring electronic music, and shortly after this debut he left the band to form Magazine.

Pete Shelley took over the lead vocal duties, Steve Diggle moved from bass to guitar, and Steve Garvey joined on bass, and in short order the classic Buzzcocks lineup was in place.  Over the next three years The Buzzcocks would deliver three outstanding albums and a dozen or more ace singles for their new label, United Artists.  They differed from their contemporaries in Shelley's adenoidal yet melodic vocals and the use of Beatles-inspired harmonies.  Where the Punk crowd was going on about political and social injustices, The Buzzcocks were singing about paranoia, alienation and unrequited love - and scoring hit after hit in the UK while doing so.

Their first United Artists single, 1977's "Orgasm Addict," brought about controversy given its rather frank approach to its subject matter, but also sold very well despite just missing the UK Top 40.  The follow-up, "What Do I Get?," did make the Top 40, and The Buzzcocks were off on a great run. All three of their United Artists LPs (Another Music In A Different Kitchen, Love Bites, and A Different Kind Of Tension) have aged remarkably well and are strewn with classics like "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Should'nt've?)," "Sixteen Again," "Fast Cars," "You Say You Don't Love Me," and so on; the band also scored with a handful of non-album singles including "Love You More," "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," and "Harmony In My Head."   In 1979, UA helpfully compiled all of the A and B sides of their singles into one album, Singles Going Steady. Essential.

As the 1980's kicked off, The Buzzcocks began slowing down.  The delivered three more singles, which were later compiled into a 12-inch EP, but Shelley soon left to pursue a solo career, Diggle and Maher moved on to form Flag Of Convenience, and The Buzzcocks were apparently done.  A decade later, there was enough interest in the band to reissue everything except for the original four Spiral Scratch tracks in a boxed set called Product.  Sales were surprisingly strong, and Shelley and Diggle started toying with the idea of a reunion.

By 1993, a regrouped Buzzcocks had their first new recorded material in more than ten years. Trade Test Transmissions kicked off a run of five more albums, including All Set, Modern, Buzzcocks, and Flat-Pack Philosophy, which all showed the band hadn't lost a step despite the lengthy layoff.  Songs like the incredible "Soul On A Rock" (from Modern) can be proudly filed alongside The Buzzcock's classic material.

For this return to NW4NW, I am happy to present two of The Buzzcock's best from their classic era, "What Do I Get?" and the utterly wonderful "I Don't Mind," as well as the more recent vintage "Soul On A Rock."  Enjoy!

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