Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27: The Buzzcocks, "Ever Fallen In Love?"

Artist: The Buzzcocks
Song: "Ever Fallen In Love?"
Album: Love Bites
Year: 1978

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Moreso than any other genre, that which "is" and "is not" punk rock is very easy to define.  This is even more obvious and clear-cut within the punk explosion of the late 1970's, and one can easily argue that things like excessive aggression, angst, and simplistic musical arrangements are most definitely traits that "are" punk rock.  The idea of love in nearly every way is certainly something that is usually not associated with this genre of music, and to even imply the idea of pop music alongside punk in many ways stands as the complete antithesis of the idea of punk itself.  However, there is one band that managed to write songs that have unquestionably pop-like sounds, as well as exploring the idea of love in many different ways, and this is one of the main reasons that The Buzzcocks remain such icons of music to this day.  Though the band has gone through a number of lineup changes over the decades, the pairing of Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle have been present for nearly the entire run of the band, and it was their string of releases in the late 1970's that stand as the finest work of the band.  It was this time period that saw The Buzzcocks release a number of (relatively) hit singles, and the apir of records they released in 1978 are absolutely punk rock masterpieces.  The fact that the group was so potent at that time makes it difficult to choose a "best" song, yet one can argue that The Buzzcocks' 1978 single, "Ever Fallen In Love?" both defines the bands' sound, as well as stands as one of the greatest moments in punk rock history.

In true punk rock spirit, "Ever Fallen In Love?" wastes no time with an introduction of any sort, as the opening moments of the song are already at full volume and full force, with the entire band seeming to already be in top gear at the first note.  Yet after a few moments of this chaotic noise, the true personality of The Buzzcocks becomes apparent, as the band moves into an unusually catchy melody that is backed by a bite and fury that is completely unique.  It is the fact that the band is able to deploy such a melody, yet retain the punk feeling that made them so distinctive, and it is also the main reason that The Buzzcocks were able to cross into fan-bases that no other punk band could access.  The dual guitar sound of Shelley and Diggle rarely sounded better, and there is a classic, at times almost surf-rock sound to their playing.  However, their sound "stays" punk in the fact that it is very stripped down and raw, along with having just enough of an edge to avoid a completely pop label.  The heavy bassline from Steve Garvey is equally impressive, and it is in this aspect of the music that the uneasy, almost nervous feel of the bands' music becomes most apparent.  Drummer John Maher furthers his mood, and he also plays with a speed and power that makes the punk rock roots undeniable.  It is the way in which each band member manages to inject an edge and aggression into an amazingly catchy and melodic arrangement that proved just how much range could be achieved under the umbrella of punk rock.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of "Ever Fallen In Love?" is the fact that one can easily argue that it is on this song that Pete Shelley has finally "found his groove," and the after-effects of the recently departed Howard Devoto are clearly out of the bands' sound.  Shelley further separates The Buzzcocks from their peers with the fact that he is actually singing for much of "Ever Fallen In Love?," and yet there is a bite to his sound that keeps him linked to many of the other punk singers of the era.  Both the tone and emotion within Shelley's voice are nothing short of perfect, and though the theme is one which he approached a number of times, there is a feeling of authenticity and proximity to the music found here that is far stronger than his other work.  Yet Shelley also manages to keep an overall feeling of rejection within his vocals, and this plays in brilliant contrast to the quick hitting, high-energy music over which he sings.  In a manner unlike anyone else who had previously explored the idea of unrequited love, Shelley boils the idea down to its most basic elements, and all can relate when he sings lines like, "...and if I start a commotion, I'll only end up losing you and that's worse..."  It is these simple, yet universal statements of frustration and defeated hope that help "Ever Fallen In Love?" to become absolutely unforgettable, and yet it is the way in which Pete Shelley presents them that also makes the song amazingly catchy and almost endearing.

Truth be told, "Ever Fallen In Love?" stands out from almost every other song of the late 1970's punk rock explosion not only for its arrangement and content, but also for the fact that since its release, it is one of the most widely covered songs in history.  With bands ranging from Elton John to Jeff Tweedy to The Noisettes, and the group Fine Young Cannibals cracked the top ten in the U.K. with their cover of the song in 1986.  Though the song is familiar to most people, very few are aware of the original version, and few would guess that its origin lies within the English punk scene of the late 1970's.  In many ways, this represents the true spirit of punk rock in a manner unlike any other song, as it works so perfectly against every preconceived notion, that one is truly original and impossible to copy.  The way in which The Buzzcocks perfected their approach of taking the classic, more melodic approach and fusing it together with the urgency and uneasy feel of punk rock sets them into a class all their own, and Pete Shelley's abilities as a lyricist were perhaps never better.  Quite literally, "Ever Fallen In Love?" is as perfect as music of any genre can get, as it blends high energy music with powerful lyrics to which all can relate, capped off by an honesty and authenticity within the music.  It is this combination of sounds and styles that forces one to wonder how The Buzzcocks were not one of the biggest bands in history, and their claim to such a title can easily be argued by using their absolutely phenomenal 1978 single, "Ever Fallen In Love?"

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