Buzzcocks captured the imagination of a generation when the band released its debut, "Spiral Scratch", in 1976. "Time's Up!", a studio demo turned formal release, followed in 1978.
The two of albums were recorded before "digital" was even a glimmer over the horizon. The gritty, analog mix is adequate for its time and chosen genre. Nothing in the music itself has been overthought. Buzzcocks' songs are well-composed, made for fast listening and quick consumption. This band took proto-punk purveyed by The Stooges, and the most nascent punk from contemporaries The Sex Pistols to heart, cranked the amps to 11, and... exploded. These tunes are simpler and shorter, with just a few very well-chosen chords, and effective, provocative, prosaic lyrics.
Musicianship is adequate, especially for the quick, vital songs Buzzcocks uses as vehicles for its ideas. Most of the live songs seem to begin on the same note - and they hit it hard. Variety wasn't so necessary when founding a genre. Getting people hungry for the sound was paramount, and this act definitely laid some solid groundwork.
The uptempo, energetic "Breakdown" lays bedrock for what would become half of the pop-punk genre. It's strongly melodic, features longer verses to shorter choruses, distorted guitars and rapidfire, antagonistic vocals. The busy drums lend an insistent air.
"Boredom" is a melodic tune which introduces dynamics: just before a full-stop, the vocals dip in the mix; it sounds almost like the recording was faded by time. The full-stop before the one line chorus ("Boredom...") builds anticipation. The insistent, two-note, Stooges-piano-inspired "guitar solo" motif with the discordant, contrasting coda, as the band plays through an entire verse and pre-chorus behind it, is actually more emphatic and interesting then a wailing virtuosic solo would have been. The 'solo' emphasizes the monotony, and that is brilliant.
"I'm living in this movie"
"But it doesn't move me"
"I'm the man that's waiting for the phone to ring"
Clever wordplay and structure add emphasis to the succinct message.
The "Time's Up!" edition offered here was all recorded live in concert, and the band left mistakes or unpolished moments in several songs. The raw energy and rougher sound adds to a convincing air. "Orgasm Addict", live, remains a disc highlight. Uptempo and melodic, the tune has a great chorus hook. Something notable during this tune is that the recording gives no sense of the venue's size: this could be from a band practice or a seedy nightclub, from anywhere in the world. Listeners are left to imagine this show's crowd and stage dynamic.
"It's a labour of love"
"F*cking yourself to death"
- "Orgasm Addict"
The agitating, confrontational language of "Orgasm Addict" challenged, and challenges, listeners to step outside their comfort bubbles. On many of these early Buzzcocks songs, lyrics vacillate between poking fun at everyday occurrences and generating serious existential commentary.
"Time's Up" switches gears into a simpler, very 'heavy metal' inspired verse riff, over an energetic tempo. Vocals aren't as frantic, and a backing call-and-response vocal adds counterpoint. The Captain Beefheart cover on "Time's Up!", "I Love You, You Big Dummy", adds to the band's oeuvre and to the backbone of a genre simultaneously.
These songs were not intended to set a mass of musicians and fans on fire, but they did. Both "Boredom" and "Orgasm Addict" are considered classic punk staples nowadays, but the catchy tunes had humble beginnings from a band determined to 'DIY'. Punk, indie rock, and metal bands dipped, and continue to dip, into this inspirational, first-generation punk treasure chest. Imaginative metalheads in the early 1980s would take the jangly, haughty guitar sound from bands like Buzzcocks (heard nicely in songs like "Love Battery"), mutate it with distortion, and the genres of thrash and hardcore were born. Bands and artists who claim to have been influenced by Buzzcocks's sound include Descendents, Kurt Cobain, English Dogs, Goldfinger, and Husker Du. Buzzcocks have even been immortalized with the band's name being reappropriated to a TV show, "Never Mind the Buzzcocks".
March 10 marks the third re-release for the boxed set of both Buzzcocks albums. As part of the music's fortieth anniversary, Domino has packaged the pair beautifully, with reprinted ephemera, for new and veteran superfans alike. This is a very fitting set, with the digital edition celebrating the ephemeral, and the 7" elevating the timeless. Besides the albums, the band chose to reprint various flyers, a magazine, and the like from around the time of the original releases.
That these songs still have so much vitality, intensity, cool, and energy 40 years later is amazing; if the recording quality was circa 2017, it wouldn't be difficult to place these songs into a current crop of punk or pop-punk hopefuls. This band both had, and has, the magic. And they did it themselves. Like most 'cornerstone' bands, Buzzcocks did what it did, not because it wanted to found a genre or change the world, but simply because it had something to say. The rest is rich history.