Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 16: The Lurkers, "Ain't Got A Clue"

Artist: The Lurkers
Song: "Ain't Got A Clue"
Album: Fulham Fallout
Year: 1978

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One of the biggest traps that both a band and listener can fall into is when comparison between artists comes into play.  When someone claims a group is "the next so and so" or "a response to this other band," it can unjustly classify a group or even downplay the talents or significance of the latter of the compared bands.  The fact of the matter is, every band is different, as they pull from different influences and life experiences, and to make such strong ties between groups does far more damage than good.  With this in mind, it is understandable that, in large part due to the band to which they were compared, The Lurkers have never received the credit they deserve for their music.  At the time, the group was called "Britain's answer to The Ramones," and while the two bands do share a similar sound, there is no question that The Lurkers easily stood on the merit of their own talents.  Bringing a fast-paced, punk sound that was as pure and enjoyable as any other band, the band was one of the few bands in the late 1970's punk explosion that stayed true to the roots of the genre.  Due to this, it is not surprising that The Lurkers 1978 debut, Fulham Fallout, remains one of the most potent and influential albums of the era, and the songs retain their punch and power even more than thirty years later.  Though there are a number of stand-out tracks on the album, it is the lead song, 1978's "Ain't Got A Clue," that quickly proves why The Lurkers were one of the most important bands in music history.

Few songs provide a better "opening" feel than one can experience on "Ain't Got A Clue," as the way in which the song "rolls" in is nothing short of perfect.  After the almost chaotic opening, the song quickly moves into a simple, yet powerful musical progression, and few songs serve as better proof of the brilliance that can be found in simplicity.  The guitar from Pete Stride is perfect in every sense of the word, as it has the edge that defines the punk sound, yet at the same time it is restrained enough to have a unique pop appeal.  The fact that the band decided not to turn the volume all the way up is one of the many aspects that separates them from their peers, and "Ain't Got A Clue" quickly proves that such a move usually turns out of the better.  Bassist Nigel Moore is equally impressive, and he quickly deploys a deep, winding groove that persists for the entire song.  Perhaps due to the fact that the volume is not overwhelming, his playing takes on a far more prominent place in the music, and it is within this element that The Lurkers were able to make themselves completely distinctive.  Rounding out the band was drummer, Esso, and he injects a quick march into the song, and again supports the idea that there can be great benefits to showing restraint and balance within an overall sound.  The way in which the three musicians move as a single unit is as good as music gets, and yet the key to "Ain't Got A Clue" is the fantastic mood and melody that dominates the entire song.

Furthering this purposeful concentration on the melody and construction of the song, the vocals from Howard Wall are clearly where the band ends up being compared to other groups.  In both his tone, as well as the style with which he delivers the lyrics, the similarity to Joey Ramone is almost unavoidable, and yet one can easily argue that Wall stands on his own.  There is a unique, nervous tension that runs throughout the song, and this mood is most apparent during the spoken "break down" section in the middle of the song.  The way that this part of the song gives way to the music is one of the greatest moments in all of music history, and one can easily feel this "drop" even after repeated listenings.  Yet even with the fast-paced lyrical delivery, Wall never sacrifices the musicality of the lyrics, and it is from this aspect that "Ain't Got A Clue" derives it's unquestionably pop personality.  Simply put, the combination of the bounce of the music and the melody put forth by the entire band at times makes the song sound more pop than punk, and after hearing it only once, it is almost impossible to forget this hook.  Yet even with this clear pop sense, it does not sound as if this was a purposeful mission, as the overall feeling is one of an uncompromising, straightforward group simply playing their songs in the style they wish.  This contrast is no better displayed than in Howard Wall's vocals, as he seems unconcerned with how they are perceived, and this mood provides the ideal finishing touch to the song.

Taking Fulham Fallout as a complete work of art, perhaps the most distinguishing aspect comes in the cleanliness and tone of every song.  While many other bands were going for a rough, almost sloppy sound, The Lurkers kept things tight and balanced, and this helps to put far more focus on their musical abilities and the overall sound of the song.  To this point, "Ain't Got A Clue" is as potent and powerful a song as one will find anywhere, and there are no gimmicks or overwhelming production tricks to get in the way of the sound.  This, in many ways, is the true essence of punk rock, as the band simply puts their music out there, and makes no implication that they care whether or not the listener enjoys their sound.  Yet it is impossible not to get into the music that the band plays, as the melodies which they deploy are easily on par with the finest pop songs of the day.  The fact that both the music and lyrics are so unforgettable is a testament to the talents of the band, and yet this aspect also separates them from the traditional perception of punk rock.  It is also this aspect that linked the band to The Ramones, and yet one can easily hear The Lurkers as a brilliant band in their own right.  Whether it is the perfectly formed musical hooks or the almost anthemic lyrics and singing, there are few songs that remain as powerful and musically perfect as one finds in The Lurkers' classic 1978 single, "Ain't Got A Clue."

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