April 3, 2003

Maintaining the Buzz

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In the blood-and-vomit-stained pantheon of essential punk rock founders, The Buzzcocks have often been omitted. At one time, they garnered heaps of accolades and shrewdly introduced insolent middle schoolers to a musical rebellion that would eventually evolve into a lifelong abhorrence of society. As anti-heroes, The Buzzcocks’ only munitions were poorly-secured patches and heroin addictions. Yet in the ensuing decades, during which their peers have burned out or transgressed the punk genre, The Buzzcocks have always relied on the sort of pop-punk that has been appropriated and diminished by the current punk revival.

Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, The Buzzcocks did not disappear after their string of hit singles in the late 1970s. Unbeknownst to the public at large, the band had merely been laying in wait, plotting its revenge. On Buzzcocks, the band makes an album that is startlingly and definitively not terrible. This in itself is an accomplishment. Anyone who saw The Sex Pistols or Television reunite in the ’90s knows that the resurrection of ancient punks has never created anything more interesting than Steve Jones’ receding hairline. While Buzzcocks may falter on a variety of levels, the ferocious and frenetic playing is never less than what one would expect from a bunch of post-adolescent teenagers. The opening track, “Jerk,” is indistinguishable from anything off 1979’s Singles Going Steady, with Steve Diggle’s patented buzzsaw guitars incongruously conflicting with Pete Shelley’s Morrissey-gone-community-college lyrics of rancor, lassitude, and love.

While this is the same band that had an “orgasm break” on their first single, the last two decades have inflicted maturity upon the lyrics. “Morning After” relates the contempt for old age and a nice breakfast to a hangover. The absurdly morbid “Useless” (“Life’s temporary/And then you fuckin’ die”) sounds so sarcastic, it’s sincere. Musically, Buzzcocks also reinstates the pop sensibilities that were lacking from their other ’90s output. The crux of the album, “Lester Sands,” is surf-rock Black Sabbath and “Wake Up Call” leads a propulsive bass drum into a snarl of a one-note guitar solo. For a band that has always been more influenced by The Clash than The Stooges, this is surprisingly dirty and loose.

Unfortunately, that tone is kept to a minimum on the album. Besides these innovations, there are a number of full failures. “Friends” takes its melody from a Stone Temple Pilots song so horrific it would traumatize me to even recall its name. “Keep On”‘s chorus is only pop-punk if one considers ABBA pop-punk. Nevertheless, at a concise thirty minutes, Buzzcocks is the best new old-time punk band since Wire. It’s also the only one besides Wire.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt