Punk was so of the moment that the second album was always going to be a challenge for the then young upstarts. Much maligned the follow up albums from punk’s first ave are full of last of gems as LTW boss and Membranes frontman John Robb points out.
I mean how could the class of 77 go beyond that flash in the pan moment when the energy and the culture collided and where they actually really meant to?
Whilst many of the groups would stumble at the first hurdle some were in a dash to get to that second album. It was like the rush of history was going to deny them that creative space.
Punk’s second album syndrome nearly destroyed many of its key players as they struggled to escape the straight jacket that they had helped to create, and many of their albums have become overlooked over the years but revisiting them sees a series of gems that have become semi lost in the murk of history.
Dammed ‘Music For Pleasure’
Much maligned, the Damned’s second album has been airbrushed out of history, but another listen proves that it is long due a reassessment.
From its inception, it was swimming against the punk tide- being produced by Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason was probably not the best start as the Floyd were seen as the arch enemy of the safety pin generation. The Damned had wanted the lost soul of former Floyd frontman Syd Barrett to produce the album, but he was already long gone from planet earth in mental terms and was ensconced in a hotel room watching a bank of TV’s and eating endless bag of sweets and in no fit mental state to produce an album, let along one by the Dammed, who were by now in a very manic and precarious state.
Somehow they ended up with the Pink Floyd drummer instead, whose conversation was peppered with anecdotes about his fleet of expensive cars whilst the Damned were hopping the Tube to the studio every morning trying to avoid paying the fare because they were skint.
The Damned themselves were in meltdown at the time of the album- they maybe have been the punk band that was the first to do everything- first album, first single, first tour of America and the first to get to the second album- they were living rock n roll in fast forward and with a new expanded line up with Lu Edmunds added on guitar they were moving into unknown territory.
If punk had been a culture that was in a rush then the very idea of doing a second album was out of step with the whole concept which meant that the Damned were on a hiding to nothing. When the album was released it was swiftly dismissed and the band fell apart and the record disappeared into the mists of time but as the years roll by it has become a lost masterpiece.
If the album does not have the drop dead classics of New Rose and Neat Neat Neat that matters little as it comes armed with a steady quality and loads of really great melodies that real suit Dave Vanian’s now patented gothic croon.
The opener Problem Child is one of the great Damned songs and as brattish teen anthems of doors slamming tantrums over a chugging riff that is sort of reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine from the Barrett period it’s perfection. When the chorus kicks in it sounds massive and is proof that the Damned were still capable of the big punk rush. Other stand out cuts include Don’t Cry Wolf with its almost boogie slash riff, One Way Love drips pure melody and a hooky slide guitar whilst Stretcher Case is classic sicko Damned.
Perhaps the stand out track on the album is Alone which is the MC5 and three Stooges updated and there is always Captain Sensible’s Idiot Box- an anti TV tirade and his debut contribution that rides along an insanely catchy riff and is almost a fave from the album and a big favourite of the Stone Roses.
Stranglers ‘No More Heroes’
Like the Damned, the Stranglers were a band in a rush- whilst punk was rushing around the front pages during the tabloid frenzy in the summer of 1977 the band were back in the studio finishing off the second album that they had started on Rattus where they had recorded a surplus of material that was all of Rattus and half of Heroes.
Somehow they had managed to record the second album with a slightly different sound even at the same sessions- whilst the debut was a sleazy sewer green, No More Heroes had a fiery red to its sound and even the crossover tracks like Peasant In The Big Shitty which could have just about sat on the debut sounded far more in place on the follow up.
No More Heroes was the Stranglers at their most abrasive and most directly controversial. Tracks like Bring On the Nubiles were designed to offend then and would probably offend even more now. ]
Part of the beauty of the Stranglers was their revelling in the dark side and their ability to annoy everybody within earshot but they made it work, and they managed to sneak their sickly amusing and abrasive songs through with their talent for really great melodies with singles No More Heroes and Something Better Change being hits and a clutch of other songs on the album sounding like potential big hits.
Despite the band veering further into the punk wars on this album, there is still enough of the lysergic and archaic weirdness leaking from the songs to remind you of who is at the controls, and the bass still sounds clipped and brutal. The band exaggerated all their points of reference from their debut and still managed to create a big hit album that charged to number 2 in the late days of 1977.
No More Heroes was the Stranglers as a punk band- snotty, aggressive and unapologetically in your face. From now on, though, they would be restless and moving on. With their next album Black and White they would invent a template for post punk and with the Raven they would become baroque prog. Never again would they sound so urgent and punky and if Heroes was a bit much for the critics of the time with the album’s lack of subtlety a bit too much for many people it mattered little as it still stands up as one of the great follow up albums.
Sex Pistols ‘Rock n Roll Swindle’
With the Sex Pistols in disarray with Johnny Rotten jumping ship in January 1978 after a disastrous American tour, the project looked over. They truly had came ,saw and conquered and changed the musical landscape- theoretically brilliant but a tad awkward if you are a musician in the band- concepts are fine for the critics and academics but what if you were Cook and Jones and want to keep doing the rock and the roll?
Manager and arch conceptualist and high preacher Fagin, Malcolm McLaren was also was enjoying his media games and his windups and his genius situationist pranking far too much to stop and quickly realised that the Sex Pistols name was the key brand- a revolutionary idea then but a normal one now with every band in the history of rock n roll touring somewhere under its battered moniker with very few original members and very little adherence to what made the band great in the first place.
The Sex Pistols second album was not really the Sex Pistols but a grand fromage of ideas from McLaren- a rag bag of situations in jokes, cheesy impressiano ideas and moments of genius foul and dark humour and flashes of genuine danger – it was ostensibly the sound track to the Sex Pistols film that was, in itself, a brilliant idea and its varying rag and bone of ideas and take downs of popular culture was a reflection of the maverick magpie manager who was now in control of the ship.
There was disco versions of Pistols songs, nursery rhyme doggerel, some swearing and a cut and paste of information and ideas and yet in the middle of all the mess there was some quintessentially brilliant moments like the Sid Vicious covers section of C’mon Everybody and My Way- brilliant ideas and proof that Sid really was the solo star he believed himself to be before he drowned in a vat of smack and self loathing topped of with a dash of falling for the rock n roll lifestyle. Steve Jones pitched in with the great Silly Thing- a superb rock n roll song and also a touching lament to his bass player who was fast sliding the slippery slope onto skid row and even Paul Cook got to prove he could deliver a good value vocal as well.
Rock N Roll Swindle is not really the Sex Pistols second album, it’s not even really the Sex Pistols- it’s more like ‘punk rock- the musical’ – either a knowing self serving and cynical cash or a brilliant pastiche and situationist prank or punk’s ultimate folly- in all probability it’s probably all of those mixed together.
Buzzcocks ‘Love Bites’
Buzzcocks were not messing around when they released Love Bites hot on the heals of their debut album. It saw them attempt to move to the side of punk and develop their natural ability for pure pop genius with an undertow of experimental nous.
This was a new era and even the photo of them on the front cover saw the band dressed down- looking fantastically downbeat and hungover like the punk party was now over and their road worn faces full of underfed M Way service food or too full of crisps and bad lager to be a real pop band underlined their outsider status as it encased an album of buzzsaw rushed love songs of heartfelt longing and laments.
The song writing is of curse top notch with Steve Diggle and Peter Shelley writing song after song that even the Beatles would have killed for. The production by Martin Rushent is perfect as ever and the playing is razor tight and also brilliantly off kilter spot on. The band had managed to avoid the traps of punk and release a clever, thoughtful and, I shudder to say it, grown up album that had lost none of the zip and bite of their debut from the year before.
The Clash ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’
There is one maxim in rock roll and it’s that of your debut album is the game changer and your whole life compressed into 45 minutes of perfection. If you get it really right it can also be the template album to a generation and seriously change the world. The Clash managed this with their debut but if you change a generation you will always be doomed to try and follow it.
A life changing album can make a seriously great album pale in comparison. And that’s the problem.
The Clash’s Give em Enough Rope has been much maligned for being too over produced and lacking in focus and whilst the man at the controls Sandy Pearlman does knock of a lot of the rough edges off the band their rampant rock n roll cannot be denied. Mick is stepping up to the plate, stretching out the Clash template with great guitar work and finding space in the song rushes to really stretch out.
Lost in the Clash neon where the debut and London Calling are ever venerated Give Em Enough Rope had some seriously great moments on it- songs that were even more anthemic than the debut- Safe European Home sounds fantastic when the needle hits the groove and the interplay between the two guitars is as perfect as it gets, English Civil War is still proof that the punk could write a great punk anthem, Tommy Gun’s intro is worth the price of the album alone with new drummer Topper Headon showing he was a different class, Stay Free is how to write a sentimental song and Last gang In Town is the anthem of a generation fast growing up from punk rock’s year zero.
This was the beginning of the Clash stretching out into the world beyond their locale and it was going to a fascinating journey and fully deserves another listen