Amongst the 100-odd, lazy, join-the-dots various artists compilations the music industry churns out on a weekly basis, there’s the odd era-defining, soon-to-be-legendary, influential, must-have collection. Shock Rock, as its name suggests, has nothing in common with The Greatest Love Songs Ever – Volume 38.
Slightly more confusingly, neither does it even bear passing resemblance to its namesake, the oeuvre of Alice Cooper or Marilyn Manson. Nary a skull or snake to be seen, nor even an ounce of stage blood spilled.
Nope, this Shock Rock is one of those era-defining sets. Or so it would dearly love to think. Not really a movement as such, more a rag-bag assembly of bands who use – get this – guitars (sometimes), and synthesizers (usually). Well strike me down, how did they hit upon that concept? Anyway, if the loose “movement” didn’t have a collective name, it appears that it does now.
In an era of musical cross-pollination, where acoustic music can stand unselfconsciously just across the floor from techno, shaking hands with prog rock and giving hip-hop the wink, and a million sub-genres are born, such an openness and exploring spirit is of course to be celebrated.
When Franz Ferdinand jumped up onstage with Scissor Sisters (or was it the other way around?), it was merely an early high profile example of what’s going on in the Shock Rock world.
The Wall of Sound label have put together 15 bands from here and there, covetous or their sequencers, squirty analog synths, woodblocks and cowbells, and in some cases, their legwarmers. But we won’t go there.
At its very best, Brazilian livewires CSS bouncing around and namechecking the scene’s Death From Above 1979, it’s infectious, fun and exciting, and doesn’t feel in the least contrived. Or if Beth Ditto’s lung-busting, militant sapphic soul-fuzz trio The Gossip are your bag, Standing in the Way of Control is beyond argument.
Other highlights worth mentioning would be the relative veterans Soulwax, with the pulsating yap-along that is NY Excuse; Zoot Woman’s Grey Day, all harmonies, wobbly keyboards and two-note bassline; Whitey’s spikey, nasty anaemic funk; and at a push, Metronomy’s goofy synth instrumental You Could Easily Have Me.
Otherwise, though connoisseurs may point to the various merits of the “alternative version, remix single edit” and “demo version” cuts on the rest of the compilation, the catwalk flash and faceless plodding electro dirges of the likes of Lo-Fi-Fnk, Infadels, Shy Child and Sunshine Underground bring to mind nothing so much as the dark post-new wave days of big-haired, Miami Vice-attired pop nonentities with silly dance moves.
Never mind. Shock Rock’s bands are “united in their disdain for the traditional band template.” Hmmm… Not much shock, not a lot of rock, and though I’ve no doubt the irony meter is firmly in the red half of the time here, well really – those keyboard guitars (Howard Jones, anyone?) are beyond the pale.
Take your pick, but as sure as Moogs is Moogs, the cream will rise to the top. The rest of you, get studying the early Human League B-sides.