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Main Category: Punk/Grunge
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I certainly don't like the Sex Pistols all that much, but Only Solitaire does give me a great chance to take these guys down a peg (as well as stress their - few - merits, to be honest). In a certain way, the Sex Pistols were to all post-1975 music the equivalents of Fifties' rockers to classic Sixties' rock: a band of extreme historical importance that was nevertheless too raw and weak to ever really make it big on the overall musical scale, more of a serious influence on the musical scene than of an unbeatable value in itself. Although even this comparison is very raw - for one, most revered Fifties' rockers had tons more talent than the Pistols, and second, it's a debatable thing that the Pistols' influence has been all that positive. How many worthless hardcore bands have they influenced? Don't even ask me. If not for the Sex Pistols, there would sure have been no Offspring, either...

Anyway, for a band that only put out one complete LP and a bunch of singles, the Pistols are sure overrated. But perhaps the most ironic thing is that the Pistols, for all their rebellion and and fabulous nihilism and vulgarity and the whole 'shock to the system' thing, were actually a marketed band, virtually created, maintained, promoted and distributed by Crook Extraordinaire Malcolm McLaren, who was hip and eccentric only as long as his hipness and eccentricity guaranteed him enough pieces of paper with portraits of British queens and American presidents on 'em. How 'punk' is that? Heh heh.

Now I know what you're gonna say: 'Who cares if the Sex Pistols' music was marketed if it was so great and had all that teen angst and portrayed the young man's rebellion against the stiffening economic and political conditions of the time so strikingly well? Marketed band? Gimme more marketed bands like these, please'. Whoah steady there buddy. 1977 was the year of punk - it was a year when punk bands were forming in multitudes, swarms, hoardes and heaps all over the country. The Sex Pistols didn't even show the way: they were just lucky enough to be one of those first outfits to get themselves a recording contract. All of these bands had enough energy in them to capture the necessary teen angst and play the necessary three-chord rock structures. And some actually did it far better than the Sex Pistols - take the Clash, for instance, or the Jam. I'm not a big fan of the Clash either, but put next to that band, the Sex Pistols are just toothless puppies. And frankly speaking, I don't care how many times a punk band inserts the word 'fuck' in their lyrics, or whether these lyrics deal with the condemnation of the British queen or turn to less easily accessible and understandable matters. What I do care about is the musical essence.

Of course, there is a school of thought that says 'the less musical essence there is, the closer it is to the true nature of punk'. But in this case, it's not the Sex Pistols who did it best. It's Kiss. Plus, you can't really argue that Never Mind The Bollocks is an 'anti-musical' album as the Pistols put it themselves. Plenty of albums had been put out by 1977 that were 'anti-musical' in their essence. Take Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, or Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, or, if you want a closer analogy, Funhouse by the Stooges. And, of course, the blistering 'minimalistic exercises' of the Ramones who weren't exactly 'anti-musical', but managed to strip the music down to the very bones, capturing that raw power of an unadorned record.

What I really wish to say is that when you're making 'music', you either follow the more 'mainstream' (in a very wide sense) approach and try making music according to the 'rules', i.e. make it melodic, catchy and professionally written and performed ("professionally performed" in a very wide sense as well - for instance, I consider the Ramones to be extremely professional performers), or you take a 180% twist and rebel against the rules - but in this case, the rebellion must be concise and complete, otherwise it's just an embarrassment. And the Sex Pistols are an embarrassment. They don't care much about their melodies, but they don't care that much about dumping rock'n'roll either. Their songs all have traditional structures - but they're poorly written, poorly performed and don't even have enough convincing force. All that's left is the usual 'teen alienation' atmosphere and anger and.. you know, the usual stuff.

That said, the Sex Pistols still had some bright spots. Like I said, they weren't absolutely untalented - rather, they were just painfully mediocre, with enough guts to pen a small bunch of rock classics but not enough guts to even prolong the true excitement over the course of one album. Songs like 'Anarchy In The U.K.' still deserve their placement in the 'golden catalog' of rock music (yeah, that same rock music that Johnny Rotten proudly announced he was putting an end to). And, of course, the Sex Pistols will always be retaining that historical importance. Yeah, they were the lucky guys to make it first when it came around to signing up punk bands onto record labels, but is this just a coincidence? Probably not...



Year Of Release: 1977

The biggest problem with this album is that whenever somebody starts discussing it, about ninety percent of the discussion revolves around the nagging questions: (1) 'Is this really a punk rock album?', (2) 'Is this really the first punk rock album?', (3) 'Is this really the best punk rock album?', and (4) 'How overrated is this album'. Therefore, just a brief answer to each of these questions and let's move on to more serious matters. (1) This is certainly a punk album, because it fits the definiton of 'punk' both musically - fast distorted guitars, the usual stuff - and lyrically and atmosphere-wise. (2) This is certainly not the first punk album musically (that honour falls to Ramones), but it's the first album to combine Punk Music with Punk Attitude. (3) This is definitely not the best punk rock album - for a more interesting musical approach, see the Ramones, for more serious lyrical and atmospheric input, see the Clash. (4) It is gruesomely overrated (yeah, couldn't resist that one).

Okay, now that the basis has been established, let's talk about how well the songs from Never Mind The Pudlocks hold up after a quarter-century. Not that well, I can tell you, although, mind you, you're not hearing this from the mouth of a well-experienced punk fan. Much has been said about the melodic excellency of the Pistols' songs, but if you ask me, I just don't hear it. What I hear is one simplistic, mean-nothing riff after another, although these aren't even riffs - just the usual power chord hammering. Yeah, I know this is the usual bane of punk, but for me, the punk ideal is the Ramones' debut album. When you listen to Johnny Ramone bashing out his riffs, you know these are riffs: he makes them melodic and memorable, taking as much inspiration from the Beatles as he takes from the New York Dolls. That's what makes the record so fun - it would have easily worked on an instrumental level. But could you imagine Bollocks without Johnny Rotten? Steve Jones is a pretty decent player, of course (here goes the myth of the Pistols 'not knowing how to play'), but there's only a little bunch of songs on here where I could call his playing 'impressive'. Even when he manages to get out something great, like the descending riff on 'Holidays In The Sun', he soon changes it in favour of something far more generic. Ah well.

Meanwhile, Johnny Rotten's voice just gets annoying as soon as the 'shock factor' wears thin. He certainly can sing, or at least, he can bark, which is quite sufficient for the album, but twelve songs of dirty riffage + plus incomprehensible barking... shit, I should really shut up, because I'm throwing out the same tired anti-punk arguments. Whatever. There's simply not enough melodies on this album. The infamous singles, 'God Save The Queen' and 'Anarchy In The UK', are, of course, the best of the bunch, although I'm still questioning myself if that's due more to their major shock-value than to the actual melody qualities. Well, they're more or less memorable, I think. But this is an album where everything really sounds the same, and I couldn't say that about the Ramones' debut.

That said, I also love 'Submission'. Hardly a true punk song, that one, more a 'classic-rocker' in the vein of the Stones or, at least, the Stooges. In fact, I might be the only person on Earth who would prefer to have the Pistols perform more slow songs - they sound even more menacing and dangerous that way. In fact, the inclusion of 'Submission' guaranteed the album an extra half-star...

Now that I said that, let me just try to explain the reasons why the record is so dang overrated. The Clash is, both musically and atmosphere-wise, a far superior effort, and should have taken the 'idolated' place of Bollocks long ago. The following three reasons prevent it from doing that: a) Bollocks had the misfortune to come out first; b) the Sex Pistols were far better marketed (kudos to Mr Malcolm "This Punk Thing Is My Personal Hoax" McLaren); c) the Sex Pistols never ever pretended to have the Clash's level of 'intelligence' - they were louder, more vulgar and reckless. Just the thing needed for a good PUNK atmosphere, you see. That's not to say that the Pistols were just a bunch of jerks. Sid Vicious probably was, but both Steve Jones and Mr Rotten Lydon do betray signs of talent and wit. However, they don't use 'em here to good effect. Yes, Bollocks has a tremendous lot of historical significance and importance - but if you're not a punk fan in general, I'd still suggest getting The Clash and Ramones instead, that is, if you actually prefer to listen to the few punk records you have than to just put 'em up on your CD rack and admiringly blow the dust off 'em from time to time.



Year Of Release: 1979

For controversy's sake, I will be the only person in the whole wide world to rate this album higher than Never Mind The Bollocks. Ha! But wait, what the heck? Controversy? I do enjoy it more than its predecessor, thank you very much.

This isn't really a Sex Pistols album, as has been said many times before. After the band had already nearly split up, with Sid Vicious in a totally uncontrollable state and Johnny Rotten out of the group for good, Malcolm McLaren made this 'pseudo-documentary' of the same title with lots of guest stars, comedy buffs and what not (I haven't seen it, so you contact somebody more knowledgeable), and this is a double album that resulted out of the proceedings. I don't see how any true Pistols fan could love it, which happily reassures me of being in no danger of becoming a Pistols fan any time soon, because I friggin' love it. See, in a certain way, Swindle is a necessary, ultra-necessary companion to Bollocks - a near-perfect antidote to the hypnosis of that "classic". Ever had any doubts about how much the Sex Pistols were marketed and manipulated? About how all the fuck-you attitude and the vicious angst of the world's supposedly first punk band was, in fact, a carefully pre-planned and pre-calculated scheme?

This record should be enough to shatter all of 'em - the very fact that at least half of the Pistols decided to participate in this project shows the youngsters really didn't give a fuck about what they were doing, or what they were pressed into doing. This is a swipe at punk, a bitter, vile even, I'd say, parody on what the movement was all about. Taking a few 'sincere-looking' leftovers from B-sides and old demo recordings, McLaren mixes them together with parodies, gags, basic rock'n'roll, and stuff that's just there so as to make the Pistols look even dumber than they were - the result is a record that would be enough to destroy the band's reputation forever had the legions of fans ever decided to sit down and actually think over these recordings, not just interpret them as a silly, meaning-nothing comedy album put out by McLaren among the gazillions of others.

Still don't believe me? Let's just take a brief look at some of the highlights. The opening track has McLaren telling all about his setting up 'the great rock'n'roll swindle' and inventing 'punk rock' in a goofy whisper backed by a bunch of Hollywoodish strings as in some archaic radio play. It moves right into a 'demo' recording of the Pistols doing 'Johnny B. Goode' and 'Roadrunner' - the playing is pretty solid, too, except that Johnny hardly remembers a single word from these songs and spends six minutes rambling and raving about how 'it's fuckin' awful' and begging the rest of the band to stop playing which, for some reason, they don't. Just as you feel you can't get any more of that, you receive a disco medley of several Sex Pistols hits, done in a classy and authentic style (I really love how the whoever-does-it go 'god save the queen, the fascist regime/dum, pa-du-be-du-be-dum-bum'), and it goes into a demo recording of 'Anarchy In The UK' which is surprisingly serious and maybe even more solid the original.

The band's cover of 'Substitute' is good sloppy fun, but looks pretty ridiculous - naturally, the Who originally did the song with more verve and conviction (not to mention playing talent!). The Monkees' 'I'm Not Your Stepping Stone', though, could very well fit on Bollocks, with just as much primal energy and aggression as in, say, 'Liar', but isn't that kinda ironic that the Pistols had to do a song by the Monkees of all people? (Don't get me wrong - I like the Monkees, but naturally, the Pistols should have been rebelling against the Monkees just as much as they were rebelling against ELP). And then you get a luvverly little accordeon and violin driven French chanson called... right, you get it, 'L'Anarchie Pour Le U.K.'. I could just picture Johnny Rotten standing against the Notre-Dame Cathedral playing his little accordeon and bellowing out, 'car moi, je veux l'anarchie! Et c'est la seule facon d'etre!' Fantastic.

'Belsen Was A Gas' is another 'authentic' Pistols song with a strong (but obviously "pseudo-") Nazi message, also a nice little gift from McLaren to the decaying band. And only on the secon half of the album do we get to hear the 'Mark II', Jones and Cook-led Sex Pistols come out with some moderately good songs, like the poppy 'Silly Thing', and a bunch of surprisingly competent rock'n'roll oldies like 'Somethin' Else', 'C'mon Everybody' and even 'Rock Around The Clock'! Of course, these tunes too are nestled in among horse-cockney vaudeville like 'Friggin In The Riggin' (dumb, but hilarious), an orchestrated version of 'EMI' and music hall gags like 'Who Killed Bambi'. And did I mention the major highlight yet? Sid Vicious blowing his way through 'My Way'? Betcha anything ol' Frank never heard that version, or he wouldn't have lived on for fifteen more years of happy, undisturbed personal existence.

I haven't named everything, but there's no need to - you probably get me already. At times it seems like McLaren spared no expenses, left no stone unturned - every possible prank has been pulled on here. It's certainly way too sleazy and cheap to be named as one of the greatest comedy records of all time, but it's no more sleazy and cheap than Bollocks. It's the back side of the medal, and I insist on any fan of Bollocks spending his money for this 'profanation' - it's more than stupid comedy, it's the other side of the story.


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