So to begin at the beginning: It is an Autumn, moonless night in Manchester, starless and bible-black, the cobbled streets silent and the hunched, courters’-and- tramps’ railway arches limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, barge-bobbing shipping canal.
Buzzcocks Love Bites, as Ian Dury said, there ain’t half been some clever bastards and make no mistake Buzzcocks are four of them.
Much as I love their debut LP the Buzzcocks’ 1978 follow up is better and marked that rarest of things, a young band living up to and exceeding every last aspect of their immense promise*. They took their joyous spasming punk energy and used it to hot wire their melodically ambitious songs of love, lust and regret, tapping into their admiration of Can on the way. Almost incidentally they scored their biggest hit, the evergreen ‘Ever Fallen In Love’. Clever bastards.
I love the individuality of the Buzzcocks, they refused to let the tumult of the punk phenomenon ossify around them; no daft safety-pin and leather uniforms for this lot. Love Bites greets us with a nice portrait of four keen looking young men looking young enough to have just bunked off school that morning for the photo shoot. The LP cover is a doozy too, the band name embossed over the portrait, ‘Love’ embossed’ on the front cover and ‘Bites’ embossed on the rear** in Magritte-borrowing script.
It starts with an appropriately loud racket for 1978 too. ‘Real World’ hoves into view guitars sawing like, erm, saws – a fabulously cold metal din. Then Steve Garvey’s bass slithers in to add some melody and the tune grinds on with Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle’s guitars sounding belligerent. As always Shelley’s vocals are great, beamed in direct from a secret lair halfway between angry and ennui.
I will ignore ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, you know how great that is. I remember the comedian Stephen Wright telling a joke about having a tape of The Best of Music^, well if I was compiling one ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ would probably be the opening track on it. I’ve spent many a sweaty night happily bouncing around a dance floor to it. So consider it ignored for the purposes of this review then. Yup, so, like totally ignored.
I have a bit of a thing for the churning, pulsing ‘Operators Manual’, the band shoehorned all manner of time changes and melodies into a song lasting only 3:33. I love the nascent cynicism of ‘Nostalgia’, there’s a different kind of tension here stretching a young man’s past present and future, ‘nostalgia for an age yet to come’; all that good existential bollocks that young folk have got the time to worry about.
‘Just Lust’ and ‘Sixteen Again’ take us careering down the same paths as ‘Nostalgia’ did, albeit with a few new hormones in the mix. The Buzzcocks are a wiser, weightier, somehow sadder band than the ones who cracked off ‘Orgasm Addict’ only 10 months earlier. Again the band are absolutely firing on all cylinders here.
Love Bites chucks us an instrumental to kick off side 2, ‘Walking Distance’, a spritely bit of rocking features some great chiming guitars and busy drumming from, the ever brilliant, John Maher. The Steve Diggle penned and sung track ‘Love Is Lies’ is up next, featuring an (be shocked punk!) acoustic guitar and a lovely tune that sails down the Manchester Ship Canal to fraternize with a distinctly Merseybeat tinged tune.
But 47-year-old steely eyed nihilist that I am, I enjoy ‘Nothing Left’ rather more, even though it cops some tricks from ‘Real World, hoping you might have forgotten what was happening 8 songs ago. Again the guitar sound is particularly yummy and deep, breaking out nice and discordant to the left and right of the thrumming rhythm. Whereas ‘E.S.P’ is just a superb, dark tuneful racket, that I found myself humming in a lift this morning.
The crowning glory on Love Bites for me is the excellent closing instrumental ‘Late For The Train’, a close cousin to Another Music In A Different Kitchen‘s ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’. My mate had a Can compilation where Pete Shelley wrote the liner notes and you can hear the Krautrock influence ringing true and through this closer. JUST LISTEN TO THOSE DRUMS!! Bunch of skinny kids who can’t play? that definition of punks just doesn’t fit here. I would happily listen to albums and albums worth of Buzzcocks doing this. It is a shame they didn’t.
Endlessly inventive, rather arch and naïve, euphoric and melancholy. Sitting back all this time later, having lived with these tracks for almost 30 years now, I wonder if any band ever captured all the contradictory feelings and crisis of being a smart aleck adolescent as well as Buzzcocks.
Love Bites, it really does.
PS. ‘There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards’ by Ian Dury & The Blockheads features my second favourite verse of a song about Albert Einstein ever. True story.
Einstein can't be classed as witless.
He claimed atoms were the littlest.
When you did a bit of splitting-em-ness
Frightened everybody shitless
*even if there was only 6 months between the two LPs, bands had to work for a living back then.
**much like my own.
^and only liking the first side of the tape.