Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Adverts - Crossing the Red Sea With The Adverts

Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts (1978)  ****

'Anyone can do it' was one of the founding myths of punk, and yet this band proved that such mythology was not totally invented out of thin cloth.  Self-conscious minimalism was not just an artistic strategy for the Adverts; it was a necessity.  Their first single (re-recorded for this album) was entitled "One Chord Wonders," which might actually possess little more than half a chord if my ears tell me right, and while they improved with practice by the time of this debut long-player, their abilities were still not even up to the level of the Ramones.  To make up for such deficits, the band play as if punk was the meaning of life (and for them, it probably was), streaming by as fast as they can physically muster for all but a couple of token slower ones (which predictably bog down).  Given such limitations, the wonder is that this album isn't merely listenable, it's actually good, and not only good, it rules.  What separates the Adverts from the hundreds of identically incompetent Pistols-inspired bands of the era (and the tens of thousands to come later) is T.V. Smith:  one man with a vision and  (more importantly) the songwriting chops, can make it work even if the hired help are the best you can get at minimum wage.

There's no point in running down a track by track review, since with a couple of exceptions, the band's amateurishness renders all the songs sounding the same.  The bad exception is "Wheels," a juvenile little, "ooo, wouldn't it wickedly suck if you were handicapped," gross-out, but it's not the much that the lyrics offend, but that the band slows the tempo to a doomy drag.  You see, half of what also makes this album work is the speed - if the songs were slowed down even a micro-fraction, you get the sense they would all fall apart.  The Adverts were naive enough to take punk seriously, with T.V. Smith delivering his would-be generational anthems like "Bored Teenagers," "New Church," and "No Time To Be 21," with the straightest of faces and most passionate of yearnings.  Not to mention the anti-New Wave screed "Safety in Numbers," that at once sneers at punk naivety and yet wishes against hope that punk really could change things.  And so the naive flower-power spirit of 1967 arose phoenix-like in 1977, at least among some naive and bored British teenagers (i.e., half the punk bands of the era).  The other half of the winning formula is that Smith constructs all of these songs around instantly memorable choruses:  play this album through only once and you'll already have at least half the songs burned into your skull, like it or not.  He doesn't expend much energy on such extraneous details such as bridges or solos; no, he just dashes off a few hasty verses in an impatient rush to the main chorus, making this is the quintessential punk album in terms of spirited style if not substance.  'Hasty' is the adjective to best sum up this album; everything about this album sounds impatiently rushed, as if they had to get this album out now, before the punk rock scene or the band themselves imploded.  This album and the Adverts themselves could only have come out during a specific time and place; released a few years later, and it would not have captured the zeitgeist, because that zeitgeist was long gone.  If that makes Crossing the Red Sea as much of a sociocultural artifact as an excellent punk album, then so be it - half of how we hear pop music comes down to social and musical context, after all.

Addendum:  depending upon which reissue you get, there are quite a few bonus tracks.  Some are just single versions of album tracks, but there are several non-album A/B-sides as well, such as "Quickstep," "We Who Wait," and "New Day Dawning," that are no different in style or quality from the LP proper.


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