It’s never been a secret that punk (especially hardcore) can come unstuck on the LP format, providing as it does the extra space for tasteless errors where a two-minute perfect banger might not have showed such cracks. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to much feted ’80s bands who stayed together through some extreme sonic chicanery, with bravery, buffoonery and sometimes profoundly terrible results. In an era of hype-specific genre delineations, here’s something beautiful and revealing about these records, all made well before punk ‘broke’ in 1991, sometimes with half an overly optimistic eye on a pot of gold or just a future more enlightened audience.
Streaming culture these days is that records we may never have otherwise parted with cash for are given equal footing to the classics, so these curious exceptions to each bands’ initial own sonic rules are all out there. Let’s go pan for gold in the toilet of 1980s full length records made by bands initially known for a different style:
Okay, so this is an entry-level example of the genre as I feel most people are aware of this classic howler progression. There are two LPs to discuss here, technically – ‘How we Rock’ in 1984 and then ‘Break it Up,’ a glaring example of how negative feedback can backfire. ‘How we Rock’ still has that vague hardcore aftertaste, with a pre-smack Springa bringing the throaty vocals and par-boiled riffs. What was up with Boston during this time? (SSD were not the only ones to take this path by any means) Did they all get into rock at once as some type of arch response to the hyper-conversative Boston-eats-itself straight edge scene? Or was it an attempt to capitalise on metal’s ascension in the charts? The latter I feel, but as plodding and turgid as it is laughable (Al Barile’s endless scales masquerading as riffs seem to be stuck in a time loop) it’s the vocals on ‘Break it Up’ that make it truly offensive, sounds like Bon Scott with a throat full of bees. Horrendo.
So Modern Method was the Boston label that put out one of the best American post-punk records of the 1980s (Native Tongue’s ‘Yowl’) and then jumped deep into peddling 12” turds for aforementioned SSD, The Freeze and my GOD, this s/t by DYS, which for sheer bad rock, echoing vocals and bizarre stop start riffs has to deserve an entry. Perhaps Dave Smalley deserves credit for trying to fuse politically conversative views with punk ‘RAWK’ twenty years before anyone else, or maybe a violent reprisal, your call.
Middle Class are possibly my top example of this hard-turn strategy paying off in a big way, and unlike Blitz they didn’t fuck it up afterwards. It seems as though neither ‘Homeland’ LP or their second EP ‘Scavenged Luxury’ are as widely known about as they should be. These records also make pleasing sense as a progression. Middle Class is known for well, basically inventing hardcore with ‘Out of Vogue,’ experimenting with mad speed while almost everyone else was still repurposing garage riffs with a snarl, but ‘Scavenged Luxury’ goes off in a tick-tock insistently haunting direction, ripping off Wire without a note of pop resolution in a way that sounds like it came out last week (one of the songs on this EP is incidentally an exact template for the sound of current faves The Coneheads.) It feels like a lot had happened to them between ‘79 and ‘80. Then came the full length. An interview with Jeff Atta (RIP) he says they had a full-length’s worth of songs ready to go then threw them all out realising what they really wanted to capture was this obsession with Gang of Four and Joy Division. Whenever I hear a comment like that I tense up imagining my response to a bandmate who offered that suggestion at the 11th hour, so it’s testament to their intense genius that what they went for instead is a brilliant American adaptation of new wave glacial brooding, full of space, single notes and warbling anarcho-style bass riffs. It sunk at the time but truly deserves a listen if you like Mission of Burma or Lack of Knowledge.
You can file Second Empire Justice (1983) under sick as hell genre deviation LPs, and certainly one which ruffled some feathers, coming only a year after ‘Voice of a Generation,’ and just through the natural fact that it was being thrown into the ever-accepting and open-minded Skin waters. This is another one which has seen recent reappraisal as a classic in its own right, dark ass synthesized post-punk with insistent bass, three years before Siekiera did something very similar on ‘Nowa Aleksandria,’ SEJ has a similarly beautiful stepping stone between two wildly different releases as Middle Class did, giving us an insight into the progression in the form of ‘New Age,’ a song which might be one of my favourite punk songs of all time? It’s come to something when it’s possible to pogo and throw beer around while screaming ‘I love you mate!’ to the person next to you, to a song with the lyrics “I hold your colour, when my vision is gone / this power is something but the force is blind / transmitted through a network, of your own kind / as minutes tick away and days become years / I know this old feeling / it’s a substance in my tears.” Damn. Second Empire Justice doesn’t have the bouncy bathos of New Age but makes up for it by being just as hooky and memorable. I wondered for a moment what the beautiful people of YouTube think of this record (and because my copy of it is 10,000 miles away) and I am struck by this summation: “Oi is too happy anyway who cares about working and drinking what about those sad days where u just wanna sleep in and jack off all day.” Let’s just gloss over the album which follows, called ‘The Killing Dream’, which sadly hurtles down another egregiously ropey path and is best forgotten.
Ok, studded elephant in the room, I can’t continue without talking about Discharge and Grave New World. GNW may have been fully recuperated amongst some of the more diligent ’charge ’eads of today, but all sources make very clear just how intensely this era of Discharge was roundly pilloried as cock rock at the time. Altogether now… ‘Anger burning, anger burnneeeeiiing!’ An interview in More Noise zine a few years back with Cal noted that his reason for leaving Discharge and steering well clear of their reformations is that he didn’t fancy being queer-bashed again, and the various stories of the GNW-era US tour and the crowd reactions to the (I quote) ‘gay glam shit’ back this up – there are plenty of gig bootlegs from this tour if you want to hear this from the mouths of pricks, yuck. There’s even one where you can hear a 50 gallon rubbish bin hit the stage as the crowd chants for DRI. In conclusion, even the worst excesses of a band trying to go all Motley Crue are still less embarrassing than the 2017 reformation old man historicial re-enactment society band wagon, so you know, who’s laughing now?
Now, to ‘Staring into the Sun; which is what I would rather do than ever listen to this 1988 LP ever again. I’m Including this howler in tribute to my pal Katie who has steadfastly loyal to this seedy underbelly of Hardcore. As a woman who myself once owned three different Underdog t shirts, I can deeply empathise. This time in this corner of hardcore was deeply odd, old mate Khrisna had a strong footing, as did introspective warbling, Gibson SGs and troubling pop-rock tendencies. My theory is that not being socially allowed to smoke weed whist being in this space of intense hippy signifiers is what held back many of these straight egde groups from being able to put together something that wasn’t completely unlistenable horseshit. I say this as someone who has a huge amount of time for shit like this, but it is SO bad. Somehow skips around tempos constantly, and then there is the absolutely throttled production throughout. “Uniform Choice at their absolute best!” smiles a Youtube commenter through gritted teeth. Let go, sweet friend, let go. Sometimes we are betrayed and become stronger as a result.
My colleague in unflinching sewer music scholarship, Joe Briggs, turned me on to this interesting example of the genre, so full credit to him for this half hour of exposure therapy reminding me why I loathe most street punk. Anti-Nowhere League took a five years to digress into Anarcho-Bono territory, proving on 1987 full length ‘The Perfect Crime’ that they were not in the least bit afraid to open their mouths and emulate the pop charts with massive choruses and background ‘yeaaah!’s which are at a riot-inciting level of distance from their previous bozo street punk sound. Fully sounds like Toto at points… largely terrible but sometimes.. slightly catchy? They would, it should be noted, go on to write (in 2006 for fucks sake) possibly the most unreconstructedly homophobic punk song ever written (I won’t name it but suffice to say, keep that X Ray Spex pun out of your mouth.) Their fear that gay sex will lead to the end of the human race seems like an interesting contrast to the views expressed in bestiality anthem ‘So What?’ famously covered by Metallica. I would enjoy watching a street punk version of Some Kind of Monster to in some way understand what happened there. Verdict? The Perfect Crime is a window of creativity in an otherwise forgettable oeuvre. Dinosaurs.
Someone recommended ‘Potion for Bad Dreams’ with a wry smile when I was young and Void was genuinely the wildest hardcore I’d ever heard, and it was upsetting to realise they had made this terrible error later in their life, so I tried to push it out. On relistening, it’s actually a lot less shit than you’d think, but a serious step away from the hyperspeed rage genius of their previous efforts, like my friend Sean summarised PFBD as ‘Van Halen mixed with skiffle’ and they’re not wrong. Or maybe I’ve just been infected by seriously low standards after wading through so much sonic effluent in the process of writing this. I once had a man get in my face about St. Peter and upside down crucifixes while waiting for a bus at Chaos in Tejas, and some of the riffs on this later era full length take me to a similar place emotionally. Attacked, amused yet mildly disgusted.
A band that was truly always on their own tip, and make it in here as a particular example of what it means to take a hard-turn into another genre when you are the type of band that’s into blinding your audience with flood lights from day one. It could be suggested that if you start out as weird as No Trend did, then you’ll never fall into the trap of producing something your fans can’t stomp. And yet even the deepest rebel acolytes must have limits. That limit, for me, No Trend superfan, comes at around the two minute mark of ‘More’, their unreleased Touch and Go LP which tests the very outer limits of this theory with unlistenable psycho ska. For real. Even their also-very-out-there previous record ‘Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex’ is MOR by comparison. It makes The Butthole Surfers sound like Dave Matthews Band. It makes that Uniform Choice record sound tasteful. Spank me with your love monkey, baby.