Thursday, June 13, 2013
The Members - At the Chelsea Nightclub
At the Chelsea Nightclub (1979) ***
Whether you hail from the soulless suburbs, the stifling small towns, or the barren backwoods, kids from Bucksnort, TN (actual town) to Camberley, Surrey, all agree - nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone. But when I get free from living in my parents' basement in this nowheresville and hit bright lights, big city, things will be different. I'll find a job and a flat of my own sweet own. I'll go out at night and meet interesting people, and maybe even pick up nice girls - sophisticated babes, not like the hay-fed hicks at my old high school. Pity life isn't that simple - sure, the Big Black Smoke has its undeniable attractions and for most bright and/or ambitious and/or creative and/or simply misfit young people, it's a wise and even necessary geographical move. But it's not as if there aren't loads of snags and inevitable disappointments along the process, and this 'too late for pub rock' new wave artifact addresses those concerns with the right admixture of wry humor and bemused bitterness.
Musically, the Members proceed from a bedrock of '66 Stones/Kinks ("19th Nervous Breakdown" b/w Face to Face): sturdy, spidery Stonesy guitar lines supporting lyrically insightful/clever verses that routinely leap up to sturdily shouted pub-sing-along choruses, all in the dedication to biting, street-level social commentary. Since this is 1979, to stay trendy there's a reggae/ska influence greasily sliding in and out of the traditionalist punky R&B. This is most obvious on the bonus track, the "Offshore Banking Business," single that tackles an obvious economic injustice (the Cayman Islander, Panamanian, and Swiss readers of my blog may beg to disagree) - an unjust loophole for the filthy rich and corporations that politicians have never bothered to close, perhaps because....hey, politicians have to have a place to stash their ill-gotten loot, too. (See the Kinks' "In a Foreign Land," the Stones' tax-exile status). And the skanky (no, I'm talking about reggae, not loose women) "Stand Up and Spit," which might as well as be titled "Stand Up and Shit".
Which is to say that, frankly, it sucks, as does....err, roughly half this album. Found on this disc are two of the cleverest, catchiest post-pub (hey, if we can have post-punk, we can have post-pub) singles of the late '70s: "Solitary Confinement," which sums in a little over three minutes the suburban naif in Skyscraperland dilemma essayed in my first paragraph; and "The Sound of the Suburbs," which says more about the genuine reality for most teenage kids in Britain at the time than any Clash, Jam, or Adverts tune. There are several nearly as strong album tracks as well: "Sally," (the prettiest and snootiest girl in high school heads off for a modeling career, only to meet tragic but poetic justice); the corrupt vice-cop saga, "Soho a Go Go,"; and the irresistable pub sing a long (literally) title track that closes the proceedings on a drunkenly festive note. (Well, did on the original vinyl, but now we have to deal with the bonus tracks, which are mostly inessential save for the "Offshore Banking Business" single). But even starting with the opening track, the album is padded out with a pointless instrumental surf number that the Members don't have the chops to make interesting; "Love in a Lift," presages a certain odious Aerosmith hit about sex in public transportation devices nearly a decade early; but the true low point is the radio call in show with "whacky" banter concerning a teen with no pubic hair. The hits are definitely more than worth a listen; just keep the skip button handy for the misses.