I think we have all had our fair share of grizzly crust so let's move on to something a bit lighter but snottier: a UK82 trilogy.
I have already written about the relevance of the term "UK82" when discussing the second wave of British punk-rock. I am not necessarily that fond of the expression, especially since it has been misused to death by many "UK82-type" bands from recent years. It is more convenient to use than "Riot City punk", although it is nowhere near as elegant and it doesn't convey as well the social meaning of this spiky wave that lasted but four years (if that). But let's run with UK82 as it appears to be the consecrated term nowadays and I don't want to bore you to death with existential questions about the naming of punk subgenres (my shrink will deal with it).
I absolutely love External Menace. And not just their early 80's material, even their 90's outputs was quality punk-rock. I first knew EM when I bought the cheesy-looking "Pure punk rock" cd on Captain Oi Records some time in 2001 I reckon. I admit that this one looked a bit confusing to me at first, since I didn't understand why they had picked a name like External Menace when there was already a band called Menace... And why "external"? I though that "Bad Menace" or "Terrible Menace" sounded way cooler at the time. Of course, I was naive and innocent then and I hadn't caught that "external menace" referred to the common Cold War fear of a nuclear war, and of course I had no idea that there were two Chaos UK, but also two Disorder and two Discharge. And it was a good thing I did not, as it would have ruined my trust in the originality of punk-rock and, who knows, I would have ended up doing a blog about vegan cupcakes or indie-rock 15 years later instead of Terminal Sound Nuisance...
The first time I played the first two EM Ep's, I instinctively knew that these had to be some of the best records of the early 80's punk wave, which is weird since I am usually about as intuitive as a brickwall. And I feel just the same thing today: "Youth of Today" is, without the shadow of a doubt, one of the very best UK82 Ep ever. Hopefully, the recent Lp reissue of early EM records will bring them some well-deserved attention, but I have always found it a bit odd that the quality of both Ep's, "Youth of Today" and "No Views", was not more widely recognized... In Burning Britain, Glasper suggests that, even at the time, EM's relative anonymity had to do with them not playing much South of the Border (the band was from a mining community in the Glasgow area) and possibly with the overwhelming presence of the biggest Scottish punk act, The Exploited. Apparently, some reviewers couldn't help but draw similarities between both bands which implied two things, that they must have been from London and couldn't be arsed about "bands from the North" and that they did not actually listen to the records they had to review (the latter, at least, hasn't changed much).
So what makes 1982's "Youth of Today" such a crucial Ep? EM were not the fastest band around, they didn't look spectacular, they were not the heaviest and neither were they the most provocative nor the most subversive. The incredible power behind "Youth of Today" is based on two key elements: first the impeccable songwriting and production and second the significant representation of bursting teenage anger. EM were not your typical UK82, even musically. They formed as early as 1979 and you can definitely hear, in the tunes and the musical intent, that, not only had they been heavily influenced by the first wave of punk-rock, they had perfectly integrated the original wave's sense of tunes. Their songwriting is a prime example of late 70's songwriting blended with the anger and snot of early 80's punk, think SLF rioting with Abrasive Wheels. EM didn't abide by the simple-and-effective standard UK82 rulebook, they sounded more like a first-wave band being transported in 1982 and having no choice but to play with more intensity.
The four songs on this Ep are nothing short of perfect. The beat, though not really fast, is highly energetic and pulsing, it doesn't rely on speed to convey urgency but on thick intensity. The production is very bass-driven, more so than on other 1982 punk records, and there are some cracking, Blitz-like lines, that instantly hook the listener, while the guitar work is powerful and gives a warm texture to the whole. As for the abrasive vocals of Wullie... they sound angry, frustrated, desperate even, but also full of youthful passion, of genuine teenage angst as if his life depended on it, as if he was shouting directly at the face of frustration, violence and boredom. In the midst of this anger-driven punk-rock, the band manages to keep a distinct sense of tunes and the chorus are astoundingly catchy (I dare you not to sing along to "Don't conform"). The greatest about this Ep is that it remains quite unpretentious and genuine, like all real punk-rock should be.
The lyrics were not included with the Ep but from what I can gather they dealt with the authorities' contempt toward working-class youth, not conforming to social expectations, social unrest and rioting in the 80's, anger toward the "high-class cunts" and the desire to be someone. This was released on Blackpool-based Beat the System records that also did the great Death Sentence Ep that I reviewed a while ago, as well as EP's from Uproar or The Fits.
This Ep is just jaw-droppingly good.
I eventually got to see External Menace play twice in 2003, both times in Manchester. The gigs were sparsely-attended and, to my great surprise, the punters didn't really seem to give a fuck. "We've seen them too many times" I was told. Did this stop me from singing along? Of course, it didn't.