“Another Music in a Different Kitchen” by Buzzcocks – 40th Anniversary Retrospective
By John Wright
The Buzzcocks are the best first wave Brit-punk band, and quite possibly the best first wave punk band period.
I’ll hear arguments for The Damned in the first debate and a bunch of bands in the second, but when evaluating the loose amalgam of bands spread throughout the world in the mid to late 70s that get lumped together in the “first wave” of punk, particularly in the UK, most bands followed one of two paths into the 80s.The first category shot heroin, wore swastika armbands, and embraced edgy teenage nihilism to sell records and make a spectacle of themselves, one that would usually implode in overdoses and bad breakups. The second category looked at the first, said “we’ll pass thanks” and just chased the money until they were rock bands, almost always to their detriment, unless you’re the Clash.
The Buzzcocks didn’t do either of these things; like all notable bands, they did something different. Pete Shelley’s eternally underappreciated lyricism turned the band away from the aggressive, politically-charged self-destruction that had already become synonymous with punk rock and instead let his own loneliness and bisexuality come to the surface. That may sound familiar to fans of a certain ex-Smiths frontman but Shelley’s singing voice is far removed from Morrissey’s virginal moaning, instead manifesting as an annoyed nasally whine. This isn’t tortured longing for true love and understanding from a cold world: it’s a license to speak freely and air one’s grievances given to an ugly guy who doesn’t get laid a lot, and it’s fast loud and undeniably punk.
In thinking about the Buzzcocks on my relisten of their 1978 debut album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen, I’ve developed something of a theory as to why they’re such an influential band: they were among the first punk bands to make the genre personal, they made punk serious. When you’ve made punk serious you’re only a step away from making it sad, and “punk but sad” would come to virtually define the emergent “alternative music” sound for the next decade.
But we are of course here to celebrate one album, Another Music is a proper punk record, moving through its 15 tracks in just a hair under 45 minutes. The hits are mostly on the back end, with “Orgasm Addict,” a song I honestly can’t believe someone wrote and has performed live, the all-timer “What Do I Get?” and the seven minute long “Moving Away From the Pulsebeat,” a song which really allows the band’s rhythm section to establish themselves as the main attraction here, before indulging in some light experimentation.
The impact of the one-two-three punch of Steve Diggle, Steve Garvey, and John Maher in setting a rock solid pace for every song cannot be overstated. The key words here are consistency and cooperation, no member of the band is capable of blowing you away with their talents as an individual but as a group they’re a well-oiled machine that churns out the sort of “three minutes or less” earworms that are the bread and butter of punk rock. Songs like “What Ever Happened To…?” and “I Don’t Mind” are perfect examples of the sort of musical minimalism they’re able to make work by building off this base.
The Buzzcocks are one of those bands that should have been a lot more famous than they were, that’s a common trait among punk bands. It probably doesn’t help their cause that they were more aesthetically subdued than many of their contemporaries, lacking the leather and rags that gave the likes of the Sex Pistols such an edge. The fact that they were an evolutionary step the history of punk from one movement to the next is what they’ll always be remembered for, but on anniversaries, like this, I think it’s nice to look back critically at the music, perhaps fitting of a band that just seemed to want to be a band in a time when bands were all either suicidal rebels, decaying junkies, or even worse, sellouts.
You can tune in to hear John host the Post-Punk Roc Bloc on WPTS Radio from Noon to 2 PM on Fridays and follow him on Twitter @Wright_JohnP. This retrospective was edited by Stevie Priller of the WPTS Editorial Board.