Friday, May 8, 2009

May 8: UK Subs, "Brand New Age"

Artist: UK Subs
Album: Brand New Age
Year: 1980
Label: GEM

Let us once again discuss the often daunting pitfall of bands, the so-called “sophomore slump.” Countless bands have fallen prey to its clutches over the decades, many times ending the career of said band. The slump is especially dangerous when a band has had a stellar debut album, as the follow up rarely lives up to the original. Bands who do manage to evade the slump nearly always go on to long, distinguished careers. Honing their chops at the legendary Roxy in London, the UK Subs released their acclaimed debut, Another Kind Of Blues in 1979. Giving the finger to the slump, punk legends, the UK Subs equaled, if not surpassed their brilliant debut with their phenomenal 1980 follow-up record, Brand New Age.

The amount that the band has grown whilst recording Brand New Age, is obvious throughout the entire record, as the songs, both musically and lyrically, are far more structured and complete. The UK Subs show a transition from the more “teen angst” songs of their debut to the more mature and politically minded songs of Brand New Age. At the forefront of this change are the fist-pumping anthems, “Warhead” and “New York State Police.” However, the UK Subs don’t lose sight of their crowd-favorite songs about girls, partying, and fights. Tunes like “Teenage” and “500cc” represent some of the bands’ most fun work and remain staples of their live set. The band even takes a moment to pay tribute to punk pioneers, The Velvet Underground, with a raucous cover of “Waiting For The Man.” (There is also an equally impressive cover of the Zombies classic, “She’s Not There.”)

The music of UK Subs is driven by the powerful duo of bassman Steve Slack and the riotus guitar work of Nicky Garratt. Slack’s basswork ranges from pure punk aggression to outright menacing, especially on the aforementioned, “Warhead.” Proving he has the chops in both rhythm and lead, Garratt’s guitar has the perfect punk sound, and he delivers flawlessly on every track of Brand New Age. Though they have had a bit of a “revolving door” on the drum riser, Brand New Age features the brilliant work of Pete Davies. The songs themselves take the classic punk formula of “good ‘ol rock and roll” cranked to eleven in both volume and attitude. The songs are frenzied and loud, yet they are not overpowering, making the entire album a joy to experience.

At the core of the sound of the UK Subs is punk grandfather, Charlie Harper. With his unrelentingly aggressive, gritty voice, Harper’s delivery embodies everything one wants in a punk frontman. Nearly every song on Brand New Age begs for group sing-along, and the songs never lose their edge or become stale, even after countless listenings. Even tracks like “You Can’t Take It Anymore,” where there is only a single, repeated lyric, the urgency within the music keeps the song fresh and proves the true talent of the band. On Brand New Age, the UK Subs come the closest in their career to writing a “relationship” song with the sarcastically amusing, “Emotional Blackmail.” On each song on the record, regardless of lyrical theme, it is the pristine delivery of Harper that makes each song absolutely perfect.

Along with the likes of The Ruts and The Damned, The UK Subs helped to shape the punk rock genre across the world. With their speedy, angst-laden songs about everything from “dirty” women to invasion of privacy, the group truly represents everything that is great about punk rock. The gravely, growling of Charlie Harper helps to set them aside from their peers and Harper remains one of the most adored and respected frontmen in the world. Ignoring the notion of the “sophomore slump,” the UK Subs delivered a blistering second album, 1980’s absolutely essential Brand New Age.

Standout tracks: “Teenage,” “Warhead,” and “500cc.”

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