Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Adverts: Singles Compilation

Review #3
Artist: The Adverts
Title: Singles Compilation
Format: LP
Label: Get Back
Year: 1998
Songs: 14

This collection of singles, along with the essay on back of the sleeve by guitarist T. V. Smith, puts on display the band's trajectory  across the years of 1976-1979, from a straightforward first-wave British punk band to something darker and more nuanced. The record begins with the band's first single, "One Chord Wonders/Quick Step," which is energetic and upbeat, and lyrically is a manifesto: the punk ethic of "just go out and do it and to hell with what anyone thinks" made explicit. Both of these are classics of the genre, as are "Gary Gillmore's Eyes" and "Bored Teenagers," the second single.  But the aforementioned "to hell with what anyone else thinks" ethic is more evidently musically in the later tunes of the record, which step away from typical punk subject matter and sounds. "Safety in Numbers" critiques the growing conformity in the punk scene, while "We Who Wait" breaks away from it startlingly, as T. V. Smith sings forlornly about "dancing in the penny arcade." The significance of this line is unclear to me, but it has a sort of haunting imagery to it that is in stark contrast to the early material's "up yours, we're punks" attitude. By the end of side A, the Adverts ask us "I wonder, is a new day dawning?" in a song marked by a desperate plea for a different kind of world. Change is evident.

By side B of the record, we're entering entirely different sonic territory. "Television's Over" tackles a topic that's not unfamiliar to punk fans, but the downbeat choruses with whispered vocals take us to an entirely darker place than your standard "TV sucks" song. "My Place" would not be out of place on a much more contemporary indie rock record. The final single, as T.V. Smith puts it in his essay, "had one foot hanging over the edge of what most people would call 'punk'" at all. "Cast of Thousands" is driven more by piano and soaring choral vocals than by guitar or drums, and the b-side, "I Will Walk You Home" is a slow and eerily haunting dirge, with the whispering vocals of "Television's Over," the piano of "Cast of Thousands" now playing dark jazz, the lead vocal echoing the desperation of "New Day Dawning," and a monotone backing vocal repeating the song title again and again as the song, the record, and the band draw to a close.

Punk rock kicked open a lot of doors. The Adverts were a band who wanted to see what was behind some of them.

Total songs listened so far: 40

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