Well, it’s been a pretty horrible week here in the UK, so what better way to pass the time than listening to music made the last time the far right had a stranglehold on the country? In case you missed it, I’m challenging myself to listen to 50 albums in ten genres I don’t know enough about, all in the world of alternative music. This week it’s 25 post-punk albums, largely made in the late seventies and early eighties. Let’s see how I got on.
1. Magazine – Real Life: I’m going to be straight up honest with you, dear reader, I have no idea what expect from the world of post punk, except that there are bands on the list that I really enjoyed while I was doing the Rolling Stone Challenge, and there are bands that I really hated. So it’s somewhat fitting that the first album on the list is one that I find to be passable but not exhilarating, neither awful nor excellent, a jingle-jangle punky biscuit.
2. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures: I can’t remember if this was the Joy Division album I listened to on the other list, but I can tell you that I never really got the Joy Division thing before. Until now. Somehow all the things that irritate me about the sparse, almost electronic production melt into something that clicks with me and it becomes something of a bleak masterpiece. Which is, I guess, what everyone else cottoned onto years ago. Lovely stuff.
3. Gang of Four – Entertainment: This was definitely one of the albums I listened to on the other challenge, and I remember because I bloody loved it at the time. Like The Jam without the annoyance of Weller, an added soupcon of funk, it’s bloody brilliant.
4. Echo and the Bunnymen – Crocodiles: I really enjoyed this slightly gothy slab of early Echo, apart from the fact that it sounded eerily like early U2 in places. I’m guessing what happened is that The Edge listened to this and decided that it would sound really good if you took all the urgency out of it and replaced it with a Bono. Aside from that I liked this, though.
5. The Pop Group – For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?: Aha, my first foray into the world ‘I have no idea who this is’ and it’s a sometimes excellent, mostly horrendous mess of experimentation, half formed ideas and random forays into reggae. Still, it’s short enough. You have to admire that about these post-punk types – they appreciate brevity.
6. Japan – Tin Drum: If this counts as post punk then it really is quite the broad church, since this seems to have zero punk DNA, instead being a foppish proto-new romantic pop effort. It’s all nice enough, but I do feel like my hairstyle is transforming into a Flock of Seagulls number as I listen.
7. The Go-Betweens – Tallulah: Another oddity, this does at least sound more like some of the other stuff on the list, albeit drenched in the kind of 80’s pop earnestness that wouldn’t see it out of place on the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie. It’s quite nice though.
8. Wire – 154: Gloomier than a goth on a hot day, this is very minimalist and dark, but it seems that the band forgot to write any songs for their album. Which is odd. You’d think that’d be the first thing you’d do when writing an album.
9. New Order – Power, Corruption, & Lies: …and my enthusiasm for the task at hand has abandoned me. I really don’t get New Order. Wishy washy pop with only a fraction of the appeal of Joy Division, and with a singer who sounds like they picked him up wandering around a car boot sale because he was humming a song vaguely in key, and were too polite to get rid of him when they got him into the rehearsal room.
10. The Psychedelic Furs – S/T: This is utterly shambolic sounding. The lead singer sounds like a tramp wandering around the back of the studio while the band play amiable indie rock and the brass section in the rehearsal room next door can just about be made out in the background. Somehow, this all conspires in its favour, and it oddly coalesces into something really rather good.
11. The Cure – The Head on the Door: You know that thing that can happen when you hear something over time without ever paying it much attention, until one day it starts to win you over? That happened really powerfully over the course of this album. Sure, I’ve known The Cure for years, never paid a huge amount of attention to them. Then this smacks me right in the face, leaving a streak of red across my pasty face. Looks like I’m a Cure fan now.
12. Talking Heads – Fear of Music: I’m twelve albums in when it hits me that either the 80s production slathered across this list has stopped bothering the crap out of me, or it’s more nuanced than all that. Maybe, just maybe, writing off the production values of an entire decade was a tad foolhardy. This is excellent, all spiky and weird but still poppy as all hell.
13. The Teardrop Explodes – Wilder: I’m genuinely confused by this, which manages to sound like nothing else and everything else all at the same time. It’s a clash of 80’s pop, proggy bass lines, a general over-earnestness and well, I don’t know. Somewhere in the middle it suddenly goes really low key, almost like goth lift music, and becomes overwhelmingly dull. Much like everything else on this list, I can’t determine much of the punk in the DNA of this post punk stuff, but at least some of it is good. This is awful.
14 The Residents – Duck Stab: It doesn’t get any better. Like the product of two eight year olds tinkering with a Casio keyboard for the first time, this is almost horrifically unlistenable. The melodies are stunted, the vocals atonal, the whole thing seems to drag on for days and my wife is now cross at me for making her endure ten minutes of it in the car. Why the fuck three separate lists think this is worthy of inclusion on anything other than a list of musical hate crimes is beyond me.
15. The Fall – This Nation’s Saving Grace: Finally, something that sounds like it’s actually related to punk in some way. Snarling, discordant, but with a step forward from the punk sound, this is exactly the sort of thing I expected to hear more of from this list. Very good.
16. Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!: An album I’m familiar with from the last stupid challenge, this is excellent, mixing the angular weirdness of Talking Heads with a funkier feel and more of an absurdist sense of humour. Their cover of The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction is joyous.
17. Bauhaus – The Sky’s Gone Out: When I added this to the list I thought I’d be taking a detour into the world of gloomy gothness when I reached this point, but I’m surprised by how akin to the rest of the list this feels, all jagged guitars and discordant urgency. As it goes on, it peels open to reveal much more experimental layers, gothy bits, a three track opus and even a Bowie cover. Not shabby at all.
18. Swell Maps – Jane From Occupied Europe: And we’re back to meaningless noise. I get that the post-punk era was largely about experimentation, testing boundaries and all that, but this genuinely sounds like an hour of listening to a band warming up to rehearse. There’s no tunes, just endless dirges, instrumentation coming in and out of time, and generally unlistenable shit.
19. Killing Joke – What’s THIS For…!: Finally. This is more like it. This positively throbs with menace, driven forward on pounding drums and brooding menace. I doubt it’s something that’s going to change my life, but it’s infinitely preferable to the utter tripe that preceded it.
20. The Slits – Cut: Hey a lady singer! Sounding unlike anything else I’ve heard on the list so far, this is grand. Reggae inflected, quite out there, but still retaining a definite punk imprint, this is quite captivating. Might be the best album I’ve heard so far.
21. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Scream: Yet more driving drums and earnestness, it seems increasingly to me as though a lot of this ‘experimental’ scene was set to a fairly standard template. Take punk, slow it down, add a dollop of angst and some black make-up and hey presto, you’re post-punk! This is fine, but again it’s not setting my world on fire.
22. Simple Minds – Real to Real Cacophony: My only experience with ‘The Minds’ hitherto was the bombastic 80’s Breakfast Club era, so I was quite surprised to find this much more in the world of arty post punk, and then doubly surprised to find it’s angular charms winning me over. I won’t forget about this in a hurry. DID YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!!!
23. Bush Tetras – Boom in the Night: Sticking fairly rigidly to the post punk formula of reggae tinged basslines, spiky guitars and laconic vocals, this is unfortunately all a bit drab and repetitive. It’s a shame, because take a few songs in isolation and they’re not bad, but then the songs all bleed into one another.
24. Pylon – Gyrate: At first I didn’t realise that this had even gone from the Bush Tetras into a different album, but that could just be because I’m quite an old man, no longer in charge of his faculties. Once I realised what was going on, I found myself enjoying this a fair bit more, although I have started hankering after some low end. Post punk – the war against low end.
25. Cabaret Voltaire – Red Mecca: After the screeching atonality of the first track, I thought the end of this first leg was destined for true awfulness, another one of those grim experimental dirges that show no musicality whatsoever, but then it rouses itself into tonality, and while never actually good, doesn’t make me want to boil my ears quite so vociferously. So that’s progress.
Right, well now I’m going to lock myself somewhere with no internet and listen to folk music until the world comes to its collective senses.
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