Monday, August 19, 2013
The Adverts - Cast of Thousands
Cast of Thousands (1979) ****
That's right, 4 freakin' stars, and don't let nobody tell you different. The Adverts' one and only followup to their debut was infamously trashed as a betrayal of punk promise when it was initially released, and for years it languished in supposedly deserved obscurity. In the rock critics' history books, the Adverts remained a one album band - to hear it, you'd suspect this was Cut Out the Crap level bad. The bad press is explainable, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't parochially narrow-minded and grossly unfair. Ah, punks (or more specifically, punk-rock raised critics) - has there ever been a more blinker-eyed movement? Always paranoia-mindedly on the lookout for sellouts? Like all of the great first-wave UK punk bands, the Adverts swiftly outgrew punk once they'd learned how to play their instruments, and once you get over the shock that this is not in the least bit a punk album ("Male Assault," a holdover from the early days, excepted), what you get is a first-rate pop/rock album. One can only imagine the shock of safety-pin mohawks in '79 when the needle dropped to the first (and title) track, and realized that someone had slipped the latest Boomtown Rats LP into the sleeve by mistake. But no, it's the 'Verts, not the Rats. Truthfully told, the production's faulty - too thin, out of focus, and over-polished, just like the cover artwork - but it's not as if the debut LP was a paragon of rock hi fidelity, either. One definite advantage over the debut: there's actual variety, with each song standing out from the others via shifting moods, tempos, angle of musical approach, etc. With the expected backing off in raw punk excitement and intensity, so there's that tradeoff. Anyway, like I said, for all their improvement the band still only reach Boomtown Rats pub-rock level of musicianship - musically, it's not setting the world on fire. So once again it's TV Smith's songwriting that carries 95% of the load, and he's still writing'em with similar quality control, catchy & anthemic & instantly memorable. And it's not as if he's backed off the intensity one notch - he still sings with feverous desperation, as if he either got these feelings off his chest or the world would explode (or never hear of TV Smith - same difference to him). The difference is that last time around, he was penning punk anthems for a lost Blank Generation; this go, he's penning pop/rock tunes, and so the focus shifts from the political to the personal. Not that there weren't plenty of both P's on the debut, and vice versa on the second LP - it's more of a subtle than drastic shift, but that lyrical shift is underlined more noticably because of the shift in musical direction. Words reinforce music, music reinforces words - it's a symbiotic relationship. "I Will Walk You Home," which concludes the album on a sinister, gloomy note, wouldn't have worked as anything but a waltz-dirge (musically unimaginable to fit on the debut) and would generational anthems be appropriate lyrically to fit such proto-goth creepiness?
However, neither critics nor the public agreed with this vault into musical maturity, and so the album flopped and the Adverts, never the most self-confident of youths (the raging insecurity clearly audible in TV Smith's voice was a crucial part of their charm), broke up soon after. A pity. Three decades later, we can reassess and rehabilitate.