The Vibrators - The Albums (1985-1990), (CherryRed)

The Vibrators – The Albums (1985-1990), (CherryRed)

What’s in a name, well for a punk band quite a lot, take for instance The Clash, The Damned, or as in here The Vibrators, aggressive terms that were used to create an impression of its music and performance. In focus here, The Vibrators, a British punk band formed 45 years ago and signed by legendary producer Mickey Most. Producing their first single ‘We Vibrate’ for his label RAK Records and signing the band in 1976. At this time, they recorded sessions for John Peel, at BBC Radio 1, further increasing their profile and signing for EMI in 1977. Shortly after this they released their debut album Pure Mania.

This collection concentrates on recordings released for Revolver Records between 1985 and ’90. The first is the The Vibrators Live, an album originally released in 1986 and recorded in England and Germany. This embarks on its journey with the memorable ‘Automatic Lover’ a spirited performance where vocalist and founder of the band Ian ‘Knox’ Carnochan channels his best Joe Strummer in a song where you might take the line “…Run for cover, girl, run for cover. She’s the kinda thing, I was warned of by my mother…” with a wry smile, as you know exactly who he’s singing about. The album continues with ‘Amphetamine Blue’ a number whose familiar rhythm rings of The Skids ‘Into The Valley’, announcing a song whose Celtic backing leads a song telling of the jilted lover “…My whole world’s turned amphetamine blue, now I’m livin’ without you…”, great acoustics and recording. In fact this goes for the whole album, also featuring a song first made for RAK Recordings in 1976, this being the band’s ‘Whips & Furs’.

This collection continues with 1988s Recharged and the this starts with ‘String Him Along’ and what seems like leaving punk behind, the band embark on what is an almost indie led, Velvet Undergroud tribute, on this occasion ‘Knox’ channeling his best Lou Reed, I simply love it. After this point the album brakes sharply and embarks on what seems to be a blues led jam. It’s Canvey island’s Dr Feelgood that jumps from the speakers as ‘Hey Little Doll’ starts, not so much the choppy guitar that was Wilko Johnson’s trademark, but certainly a vocal similar to the trademark drawl of vocalist Lee Brilleaux. But what’s this, as ‘I Don’t Trust You’ starts up I realise where it is was The Happy Mondays drew influence for the melody of ‘Loose Fit’. It might have only been the opening seconds, but put on a loop and it’s almost a ringer. Again the melody of this song is more indie than punk, the wayward lyrics speak of teen angst, mistrust and a lover spurned. As an album that was released in 1988, its title suggested a band who were learning the lessons of the past, although looking to the future. The album experiments with a number of styles from not just punk and indie, but also the more traditional, as heard in the segue ‘Hey Nonny No’ to ‘Picture Of You’ and from its very title the listener might get this before even pressing play. But it’s punk, of a blues-led-variety that is at the very heart of this album from ‘Too Dumb’, to ‘Tight Black Jeans’ and then the live version of ‘Disco In Moscow’, a single brought out by the group’s guitarist Phil Ram and first released by his group Able Ram, plays this disc out.

Second album here, released in 1988 was Meltdown and starts with ‘Office Girls’, 8 years on from Klark Kent’s telling of a story on a similar theme. This is a rock’n’roll telling, containing a familiar hook and infectious lyric “…Gimmie gimmie gimmie an office girl, I like the way they wear their hair in curls, gimmie an office girl…”. Tracks here that leap from the speakers are ‘Dont’cha Lean On Me’, if only for the drum roll as the song embarks on its journey and the guitar that introduces ‘Speedtrap’ is a quintessential Top Gear moment. Lyrics sung on ‘Letting You Go’, drew me into a tale of a breakup of its central character, “…Only you know the reasons why I can’t cope, With your clothes and your records all gone. Went off with the keys, never once did you phone. Left me lost and alone for so long…”. The album was again co-produced by Steve Nunn, who had worked on its predecessor. I did have to consider, that as both albums were released in 1988, wouldn’t they have made an ideal double album, but on hearing the contrast in styles, perhaps leave them the way they are. Recharged does seem to be a better proposition, if you were looking for an isolated album, but as you have both here that decision has been made.

1989’s Vicious Circle continues this box-set in a similar vein to how we left Meltdown and another rock’n’roll album greets the ears. From looking at the track listing, before I’d even pressed play, it was ‘Poll Tax Blues’ that drew a wry smile, as all of us (of a certain vintage) remember this tax being introduced in the early 90s. This sardonic look at the effects of the ill-fated tax, is sung on top of a similarly placed guitar riff that echoes the general feeling of how people felt. Retaining the production team from Meltdown, the album runs with a similar theme in the most part. ‘Count On Me’ kicks in with a sliding guitar riff, adding a bass run, which culminates with drum roll. All before the vocal is brought in creating a nervous state of alert, “It’s tough to find a harder way, someone’s pushing you around, you need them anyway, it’s a last chance gamble that keeps you standing now…”. Later in the album, this state is relaxed as a version of Billy Fury‘s ‘Halfway To Paradise’ is introduced by a gentle acoustic guitar, “I only want to be your lover, but your friend is all I’ll stay, I’m only halfway to paradise…”. A quite different proposition to the earlier heard and again as the album is furthered, ‘Work’, is a song which uses in excess of a minute before any vocal is brought in to describe the labours of the subject, “…You’re a runaway girl, feeling all alone, working for nothing the street’s your home…”, gee thanks ‘Knox’, I think I’ll slash my wrists now. But a nice riff, is used to relieve the monotony and tension of the day, as the album is played out to the hard guitar of ‘Drive’ as Knox announces “…drive she said, get me out of here…”, not quite Julian Cope, but at least I’m not crawling.

As this set concludes, here is the album I’ve been waiting for, Volume 10, its simple artwork that adorns the cover is attractive. I’m under no misapprehension that this will achieve the same accolade as their debut Pure Mania, from which Stiff Little Fingers drew their name, but here goes. The album starts with ‘Losing It’ and seems to be on the right course. A 3 minute pop song, well 3’48” to be precise, as Knox sings “…Hey girl you’re coming adrift…”, bending the words to match the melody, made me chuckle anyway. ‘Hot for You’ is a solid punk belter, fast and punchy. It sounds as if the band thirteen years on from their debut are making a bid to recapture their youth. ‘Rave On’, is definitely a band dipping their toes into a generation’s awakening in the fifties, the spirit of Buddy Holly on hand in this cover version. The likes of Holly and Eddy Cochran’s spirit is awakened in this album’s bars, from the rock’n’roll moments of ‘Rave On’, where that hook may catch you off guard, to the menace of ‘Cartel’, a tale of 20th century corruption. ‘Hey America’ seems to give a nod to Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s rock’n’roll drive, although with the tech turned down. While it turns its gaze to 88s Recharge in the indie of ‘World in Your Hands’. The album concludes with ‘Commanche’, in which another menacing rip roaring drive plays through a tale of native Indian power. The rhythm beating out a pattern we heard in the films we watched as children. I was right when I assumed that Volume 10 might not live up to the band’s debut, but it does show a band who were not standing still. I still love its artwork, so in part I won’t dismiss it.

The Albums 1985-1990 is out now on Cherry Red.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.