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Wednesday, Apr 30 2003
During Britain's late-'70s punk rock explosion, while the Sex Pistols showed off their over-the-top shock value(s) and the Clash vented its storm-the-towers rage, the Buzzcocks were the punk band you could almost take home to Mom (provided you didn't tell her the name). They were relatively clean-cut popsters (albeit quite loud and Ramones-fast) who eschewed socioeconomic politics for emotional ones, and they had an impish sense of humor. The quartet wailed tales of anguish-fueled relationships with giddy intensity and then hammered them home with buzz-saw guitars, enthralling melodies, and merrily frantic tempos -- along the way racking up hit singles in the British Top 40 and influencing such acts as Hüsker Dü, Green Day, and the Fastbacks. In 1976, they were the first punks to issue their debut record on their own label, the seminal EP Spiral Scratch.

By early 1981 the group had split apart, with singer/guitarists Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle reuniting in the early '90s to release the mostly humdrum Trade Test Transmissions. It seemed then that the times had passed them by. But now comes their self-titled seventh studio album, with fresh life. While the giddiness of the Buzzcocks' heyday has been replaced by a surly nihilism (in "Useless," Shelley sings, "Life's only temporary/ And then you fuckin' die"), the foursome still knows a good hook (as with the downcast yet urgent "Sick City Sometimes"), and it maintains that distinctively surging guitar sound -- despite a few more melodramatic power chords this time around. The new rhythm team of bassist Tony Barber (of Creation) and drummer Philip Barker lacks the elastic snap of predecessors Steve Garvey and John Maher, yet provides plenty of propulsive oomph. As the punk/pop sound the band pioneered has become (oy!) mainstream, perhaps Buzzcocks will finally reap the band members some returns on this side of the Atlantic.

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Mark Keresman


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