Thursday, 22 May 2014

Plasmatics - New Hope for the Wretched (1980)

This was originally pressed on splatter effect coloured vinyl as I recall, which even in 1980, wasn't quite enough to part me from my pocket money. I hadn't heard the music, but of course I was curious, having read about the band's gigs in Sounds, a music paper very much at the forefront of ladies' breasts flopped out on stage photojournalism and thus of obvious interest to both the Plasmatics' manager and a growing lad like myself. The Plasmatics were promoted as the most outrageous punk group of all time, which almost worked providing you understood outrage to be the central purpose of punk rock, which it wasn't. They smashed television sets, blew up cars, and cut guitars in half on stage with a chainsaw whilst Wendy O. Williams delighted gentlemen music connoisseurs in the audience by modelling a range of bras made from shaving foam, insulation tape, or two clothes pegs. Incredibly, considering the state of my hormones at the time, this still wasn't enough for me. They just seemed too ridiculous, patently trying too hard, and far too close to the Kenny Everett idea of punk rock; and they were on Stiff Records, the once decent label that had seemingly become home to a series of dreadful novelty records made by men burping quietly to themselves in pubs; and all the spectacle, smashing stuff on stage as a supposed statement against the evils of consumerism, just like Gene Simmons breathing fire in two foot high-heel boots was a statement against the evils of erm... tall people and flames.

It's taken thirty-four years, but curiosity has eventually got the better of me, and to my surprise the Plasmatics actually aren't too bad, even without boobs or explosions to enhance the listening experience. Wendy never really sang so much as grunted along in tribute to the Cookie Monster, roughly like any female comedian you care to name doing that voice which represents the macho arsehole. Musically, they were, I suppose, The Damned with a touch of the Status Quo about them, and a sort of pounding rockabilly beat ploughing along at the kind of pace that leads to heart trouble in later life; and so Wendy's grunting fits quite well.

I'm not sure if anyone would ever have heard of them were it not for boobs and explosions, although that would have been a shame, and more the fault of the music business than the band. In the Plasmatics favour, this is actually a pretty good album for those too pissed off to enjoy the Ramones, with whom they share a similar sort of energy. Lyrically, it isn't quite fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off stick it up your arse for forty-five minutes, although at times it feels like it might be, and I wouldn't want to live in a world which didn't have a place for that sort of thing.

I get the impression it went somewhat downhill after this - if you can imagine that - and I'm not sure who would have wanted to listen to the six track Metal Priestess EP - also included here - given that Iron Maiden already existed and did that sort of thing about a billion times better; and eventually and tragically, Wendy O. Williams was no more, taking her own life in 1998 following a series of previous unsuccessful suicide attempts. She left a note which read:

I don't believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time. I do believe strongly, however, that the right to do so is one of the most fundamental rights that anyone in a free society should have. For me, much of the world makes no sense, but my feelings about what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place where there is no self, only calm.

I get the impression that there was probably a great deal more to the woman than boobs and explosions, and had she not made her way in an industry which seemingly expected such things, the story would maybe either have had a happier ending, or might still be in progress. Oh well.

New Hope for the Wretched is an almost unfeasibly stupid album, but not a bad one by any stretch.

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