It’s a shame that one of New Wave’s finest bands is probably now best known to the younger generation from the TV music panel show Never Mind the Buzzcocks. The Buzzcocks’ fine pop-punk catalogue of well-crafted songs with an aggressive edge, where melody stands on equal footing with menace, still sounds more vital than many homogenized and over-produced rock bands today.
Now a new live album recorded earlier this year at the Forum marks the Buzzcocks’ 30th anniversary – and shows the band are very much alive and kicking. Its near 80 minutes’ duration boasts 28 tracks of rough and ready, no-nonsense, bubblegum punk. The sound quality may be basic but the pedigree of the songs still shines through..
The Mancunian band released their first record – the Spiral Scratch EP – in 1977 but of course they have not been active continuously since then as they split up for most of the ’80s. However, since re-forming in 1989, the Buzzcocks have released five studio albums containing some surprisingly decent songs. Over the years their lyrics may have become more sophisticated and their music more textured but they have stuck pretty faithfully to their New Wave roots, as Buzzcocks 30 shows.
In fact it doesn’t sound very different from their two previous live albums, taken from concerts in their prime in the late 70s – just much longer! The Buzzcocks were always known as a singles band (though they never made the top ten), and Buzzcocks 30 is a sort of greatest hits with some fillers. There are a few later post-reunion songs but, as is right and proper, the vast majority stem from their original phase when punk still had its sting.
With an average time of less than three minutes, the band zips through these songs like an alcoholic drowning drinks before closing time. The shortest is Love You More, a sweet shot of just under two minutes, while easily the longest track, at a whopping five minutes-plus, is Moving To The Pulse Beat, an atypically staccato-rhythm-led anthem which ,b>Bo Diddley might have written if he had been a punk.
Highlights include first single Orgasm Addict, What Ever Happened To?, I Don’t Mind, What Do I Get?, Promises and the band’s biggest hit Ever Fallen In Love? – all pure distillations of New Wave spirit played with plenty of passion. More recent songs such as Isolation and Reconciliation (a single from last year’s album Flat-Pack Philosophy) also come across strongly.
Main man Pete Shelley’s high-pitched melodic singing and needle-sharp guitar-playing, including a surprising number of short piercing solos, is supported well by Steve Diggle’s more guttural vocal style when he sings his own compositions such as Autonomy and Harmony in My Head. Simple but effective vocal harmonies and the band’s tight rhythm section complete the no-frills but punchy package.
There is virtually no banter or small talk between tracks, as Shelley normally just announces the next song title before the band goes straight in. Fast and furious, it’s what the Buzzcocks do best – and it’s great they’re still well up for it 30 years on.