Thursday, May 29, 2014

41 Nevermind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977) The Sex Pistols




1. Holidays in the Sun
2. Bodies
3. No Feelings
4. Liar
5. Problems
6. God Save the Queen
7. Seventeen
8. Anarchy in the U.K.
9. Submission
10. Pretty Vacant
11. New York
12. E.M.I.

In 1977 The Sex Pistols shook up music like it had rarely been shaken up before. They exploded on the music scene with three chords and a sneer and proceeded to offend pretty much everyone they met. They deliberately behaved like the bad boys of rock and roll and made it clear that the rules had changed totally and life would never be the same again.... and then it was.

Viewed at the time, it's fair to say The Bollocks was a musical revolution. It railed against huge prog rock bands,  middle-aged artists from the sixties, over-production, glitz and everything that was wrong with music in the mid seventies. It proved that you didn't need big productions, you didn't need orchestras or synthesizers, you didn't need electronic effects and you didn't even need to know how to play that well. All you really needed was the right attitude, the rest was just padding. And the required attitude was that everything before you came along was bollocks. The Sex Pistols were happy to claim that everyone who wasn't them was wrong and every band who had ever gone before them was worthless. You shouldn't trust anyone who was old and rich and anyone who was selling out.

Cut to a few decades later and the Sex Pistols are old and rich and have sold out.

Lead Singer Johnny Rotten was the most hated man in Britain for his anti-establishment attitude, permanent sneer and tendency to badmouth anyone he came in contact with. He was the ultimate face of disaffected youth and cemented his bad boy image with a series of television appearances in which he was deliberately surly, impolite and aggressive. In recent years Rotten has appeared in a successful advertising campaign for Country Life Butter. He has also agreed to be a contestant in a reality show called  "I'm a celebrity get me out of here." A few years ago he was a judge on a talent show but was sued by a producer after he punched her in the face when she put him up in a hotel that wasn't classy enough. He still attempts to be shocking and controversial in interviews but in an era when an interviewer is likely to casually drop the F-bomb in casual conversation poor sad old Johnny has rather lost his ability to shock.

All of which makes it hard to review The Bollocks as it was actually intended. It's supposed to be seen as the antidote to established rock and a protest against the wealthy and complacent. It was designed to be the ultimate expression of dissatisfaction with an industry focused on wealth above all else. And at the time it probably looked like it was. But today it's the first band by that cranky fat guy who does butter advertisements, which means all of its sneer and attitude looks processed and downright fake.

It doesn't help knowing that The Sex Pistols were essentially a boy band every bit as concerned about image as One Direction. Lydon himself got the job because he had a look. He couldn't sing but he had the image they wanted. The same went for bass player Sid Vicious who wasn't a musician and couldn't play his instrument but was accepted because he looked like he fit into the band. They were given an image and a look by their manager and were as manufactured as any group of smiling teenagers performing dance moves.

So when we know the sneer is affected, the image is created and the attitude is entirely false all that's left is the music itself. The album stands alone as a collection of songs rather than a revolution which we know changed nothing. Viewed as just another album released in 1977, Nevermind the Bollocks is frankly left wanting. It's not as interesting as the Clash's debut or anything produced by The Stooges or the Ramones. It sounds like the losing act in a battle of the bands competition and it's about as much fun as Rotten himself.

They might be the first people anyone thinks of when you mention punk but that punk has been done much better by people who actually maintained their ideals when people started flinging them wads of cash. There are albums which have just as much attitude but without the subsequent sell out and accompanying air of disappointment.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "My good gracious, this album is simply appalling! The Sex Pistol's other album, "London Calling" was pretty bad too, but this was simply awful!"

-I think any review that starts with "My Good Gracious" and then claims the Sex Pistols recorded London Calling is definitely a joke.

So is this good or just...bollocks? Let me know below.

9 comments:

  1. I think it's a masterpiece that holds up well today, partly because Johnny Rotten was either a) a great rock vocalist or b) perfectly cast in the role of one. Whatever, he certainly had a great punk voice -- the energy, the sneer and the chops, with Steve Jones and Glen Matlock on hand to provide all the professionalism the band needed to get their sound across. Also, a full six songs on the album are classics, punk or otherwise: "Holiday in the Sun," "Bodies," "No Feeling," "God Save the Queen," "Anarchy in the U.K." and "Pretty Vacant." The album never slackens a bit. Taken strictly on its own merits, leaving out Rotten's image then or now, I think of as both a period piece and a rock classic. I no longer play it as much as I do the other watershed punk debuts by The Clash or Wire or The Ramones from the same time, but it's not bollocks at all.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Your certainly right about the energy levels and the fact that the album never, ever slackens off. Can I ask if Rotten's later life has tarnished your view at all?

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  2. That part never much concerned me. More of an English issue, I guess. I saw the butter ad on YouTube and yes, it did seem weird and suggested he was just a con man. But then, I think there always was a bit of a con to the whole group, that it was manipulated by Malcolm McLaren to make money. And yet, the album was a defining rock moment, whatever the intent behind it.

    I actually came to the album a few years after its release, by way of this great book by Greil Marcus titled "Lipstick Traces," a cultural history that traces the roots of punk rebellion back through the centuries -- from the Beats to the Situationists to the Surrealists to Dada, and even further back. For Marcus, "Never Mind the Bollocks" is something like a holy rock and roll text at the level of "Highway 61 Revisited" (which he has also written about) and it may be that some of his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Like I said, I don't like it as much now as I used to but I still give it the occasional spin.

    Another thing about Rotten, I found myself quite fascinated by his Public Image Ltd. records like "Metal Box," "The Flowers of Romance" and "Album" -- very intriguing, push-the-envelope records, even if they do eventually wear on the patience a bit.

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    1. There's nothing like a well written and passionate critique of an album or artist to make you appreciate them more. I've read Marcus on Dylan but I've never read him when he's writing about Punk. I probably should give him a go. PIL' Metal Box is on this list as well so I wrote about it here. I didn't really have much that was nice to say about it

      http://500horizons.blogspot.com.au/2009/10/469-metal-box-making-sex-pistols-look.html

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  3. At the time of release all we heard about was the swearing and the spitting on their fans. Sounds a bit like the debates in parliament at the moment.That said it is a fascinating historical document that in its context is a pivotal album. But to listen to ? F@*% off !

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    1. Agreed. Important in it's time. Not worth hearing now.

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  4. Wow. Total divergence here on everything. "Not worth hearing now"? "God Save the Queen" still jumps out of the radio with as much crazy cutthroat abandon as "Gimme Shelter," "Like a Rolling Stone," "I Wanna Be Sedated," "London Calling" or any rock classic you can name.

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    1. God save the Queen certainly jumps out of the radio... but that's it. After that initial jump there's nothing. It hurtles out with wild cuthroat abandon (great phrase by the way) and then hurtles around repeating it's initial jump and proceeds to get tiresome and repetitive over it's three minute running time. There's a brief guitar solo which almost anyone who has had three guitar lessons can play and then it's just continued hurtling and inane lyrics. It starts annoying, which is bad, but gets dull, which is worse,

      Compare that to Gimme Shelter which starts off with a low-key guitar intro, gradually introduces some other instruments over the course of a minute and builds up to some hurtle. Jagger is in fine form, Merry Clayton is amazing, and Richard's guitar break is one of his finest. It's got light and shade and the build up to it's hurtle makes it all the more impressive.

      Comparing God Save the Queen to Gimme Shelter is like comparing The Iliad to the made up stories I tell my three year old before bed. They're just not in the same artistic league.

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  5. I could just as easily turn it around and say "Gimme Shelter" sucks because it isn't "God Save the Queen" -- that it's so devoted to being a garden variety well-made song and so preoccupied with bring a standard three-act drama that it has work up to the authority that Rotten commands from the first note. I'm not going to make that argument, because the truth of the matter is that these two songs have zero in common except greatness, and "God Save the Queen" would not have been better if had a gradual build-up or a female backup singer or light and shade. It was an anti-Establishment Molotov cocktail, which also meant anti-Jagger and anti-accepted notions of what made a good rock song. It was a bilious pit bull of a song that didn't want to be anybody's pet, and that's what made it unique.

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