Wednesday, August 11, 2010

August 11: U.K. Subs, "Warhead"

Artist: U.K. Subs
Song: "Warhead"
Album: Brand New Age
Year: 1980

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While many of the greatest songs in history have achieved that status due to the brilliant complexity of the music, there is certainly something to be said for straightforward, uncompromising rock power.  This was, in many ways, the ethos of the punk rock movement that sprang to life in the late 1970's, and it was this initial era of the genre that produced many of its finest and most enduring acts.  Perhaps due to "not knowing any better," many of these punk pioneers had a similar drive underneath their music, yet each of the great bands had their own, unique sound.  While some of the groups of this era when for the shock factor (The Sex Pistols), and some took the "everyman" approach (The Ramones), and some yelled against authority (The Clash), there were a handful of bands that took a bit of each of these styles and brought their own brand of punk rock to the masses.  As part of the amazing group of early U.K. punk bands, there were few that brought as much raw power, yet had an underlying sense of humor to much of their music than U.K. Subs.  While many of their songs were about little more than chasing girls, fast vehicles, and running from police, as the band progressed, a handful of more socially conscious songs began to appear.  The bands' second record, 1980's Brand New Age, shows every angle of the band, and few songs from anywhere in their career pack a similar punch to that found on U.K. Subs brilliant single, "Warhead."

One of the many consistent factors throughout the entire catalog of U.K. Subs is the hard-hitting, unaltered musical assault that accompanies every one of their songs.  As was the case with a majority of the punk groups of the time, the band wastes no time on musical aspects that are not completely essential to the music, and this gives all of their music an amazing sense of urgency.  On "Warhead," the band proves that one need not play at a break-neck pace to achieve this mood, as the song is slightly slower than your "average" punk tune.  However, U.K. Subs do manage to create a looming, intimidating mood that hangs over the entire song, and it begins from the moment the song starts with the deep bassline from Paul Slack.  Guitarist Nicky Garratt breaks in quickly and the abrasive, two-note riff he brings increases the sense of nervous tension on the track, and "Warhead" soon explodes as the first bridge begins.  However, this simple guitar and bass arrangement persists throughout the entire song, and the rhythm it creates, along with that from drummer Pete Davies, gives the song a power and unsettling energy unlike that of any other.  This was, in many ways, the aspect that set U.K. Subs apart from their peers, as they were far more than a "one trick pony," and were able to perfectly deploy nearly every different spin on the punk rock sound.

Matching the mood and intensity of the music, vocalist Charlie Harper remains one of the most influential and captivating frontmen in the entire history of punk rock.  The grit and growl in his voice are rarely more apparent than on "Warhead," and the song also presents Harper in a far more aggressive manner when compared to the lighter, almost jovial nature of much of the rest of the catalog of U.K. Subs.  However, though the song is a bit of a shift in approach from the bands' previous effort, Harper sounds as good as ever, and the way in which he presents the vocals makes it almost impossible NOT to sing along.  It is this aspect that made U.K. Subs so legendary, as nearly every one of their songs was crafted for group involvement, and few in the punk rock genre achieved this as consistently as one finds within the music of U.K. Subs.  Much like the straightforward feeling within the music and singing, the title and lyrics of "Warhead" leave little to the imagination, and the song can be seen as the bands' first foray into socially aware song creation.  "Warhead" is a fuming, unrelenting assault on nuclear war, and the band leaves no stone unturned, attacking the frightening theme on all fronts.  Perfectly capturing the unsettling mood that was gripping much of the world, Harper sums it up with the lines, "...there's a nation in fear another nation nation killing and another nation about guns and escalation...bye bye planet let alone a nation..."  It is brutally honest lyrics such as these that make "Warhead" such a stunning musical work, and one of the many reasons why U.K. Subs stood out within the many early punk rock pioneers.

In an era that was beginning to overflow with rock and roll excess, many people throughout the world were looking for some band to begin to "bring the truth" again.  For decades, social criticism and similar themes had come largely from the folk genre, but as the 1970's progressed, the genre began to quickly fade in popularity, as the world turned to the carefree sounds of disco.  Thankfully, a handful of bands around the world took the questioning spirit of folk and gave it a modern spin, and this was the ethos behind the finest bands of the punk rock explosion of the late 1970's.  Along with peers like The Damned, Generation X, The Buzzcocks, and many others, U.K. Subs brought their own style of this burgeoning genre.  With Charlie Harper standing out above nearly all of his peers, it was often his voice that ignited crowds and the power behind his vocal work remains just as moving today as it was when many of the songs were first recorded.  Having set themselves apart with their debut record, the group showed their thematic and musical diversity on 1980's Brand New Age, as they touched on a number of different topics from light-hearted musings on younger women to the threat of global nuclear war.  It is this latter theme that stood out from the rest of their catalog and still does to this day, and yet the fact that the songs fits in perfectly with the others proves that the group understood their sound perfectly and were able to execute it in any way they wished.  From the menacing orchestration to the hostile vocal work, there are few songs of any era that pack a similar punch to U.K. Subs 1980 anti-war anthem, "Warhead."

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