Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Members - At the Chelsea Nightclub (1979)


Have you ever noticed how much punk rock was concerned with wanking? Close to half the playing time of At the Chelsea Nightclub seems to concern itself with banging one out by agency of a firm hand and dirty thoughts. I've consequently developed a pet theory about this being the principle factor distinguishing late seventies punk - and related affectations - with what came before. I floated the idea on facebook, and whilst a few precedents were offered - and no less than two from the Who - earlier hymns to masturbation have generally been couched in more veiled, poetic, or even heroic terms, and it's only once we get to the Jubilee year that you really start to hear songs revelling in the sweat-drenched shame of burping the worm following purchase of gentleman's interest material from a newsagent staked out for a full two hours beforehand so as to be certain that no-one I knew was you know is already in there. Everyone had a song about wanking - the Stranglers, Alternative TV, the Vapors, Pork Dukes, Buzzcocks, Snivelling Shits, the Undertones, Devo, even Gary Numan - in fact especially Gary Numan, come to think of it; and this is why punk was great.

At the Chelsea Nightclub is what punk sounded like outside the capitol, in small satellite towns up and down the country with kids desperate to relieve the crushing boredom and apparent lack of any future other than one channelled through some fucking awful technical college; and of sufficient desperation as to not really give a shit about the cool or the moody - hence the healthy appreciation of both tunes and fun. There's a lot about this record which will have attracted subsequent frowning, and at least two of the twelve songs refer to something on the cover of a magazine, which I seem to recall being a popular lyric amongst your skinny tie types that year, and of course there are all those yobbo foghorn backing vocals. The Members were - and possibly still are - something inhabiting a point equidistant between pub rock, the Clash, maybe a bit of the Stranglers, and with a great big splodge of cod reggae thrown in because it was 1979. I already knew the album had potential on the strength of The Sound of the Suburbs being one of the greatest singles of all time, but it's somehow taken me three decades to buy the thing.

Amazingly, it's a genuinely great album without a weak track, and - at least for me - a powerful invocation of those long hot seventies summers of Midlands Today, getting drunk for the very first time, and failing to have sex with anyone besides myself. I'd object to the cod reggae but I can't because it's done so well and with such love as to bypass all possible propensity for sneering. Nicky Tesco singing in his special reggae voice might seem initially odd, like a vocal equivalent of blackface, but really it's just what suits the music and surely isn't any more an impersonation than all those phony American accents on rock records. Furthermore, there's Love in a Lift - a more excitingly sordid precedent to Aerosmith's shitty airbrushed hair metal anthem of '89 - which welds cod reggae to some of the most powerful twang heard since Duane Eddy; and Offshore Banking Business seemed to notice a specific problem with capitalism at least two decades before everyone else started going on about it. It's one of those records which sounds initially familiar, then begins to bear less and less resemblance to anything else you've heard, the more you listen.

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