Friday 15 February 2019

Who Needs Wacky Titles Anyways!?! (part 4): The Fits "Tears of a Nation" Ep, 1983

Last week, we saw that a band majoring in anarchopunk, No Choice, got to be released on the prime UK82 punk label, Riot City Records. Well, today will be the exact opposite, a band closely associated with the UK82 wave that had a record on a classic anarchopunk label: The Fits' Tears of a Nation released on Corpus Christi. 

It only really hit me a few years ago as I was taking a closer look at Corpus Christi's discography. For the ignoramuses among you, Corpus Christi Records was an offshoot of Crass Records, run by owner of Southern Studios, John Loder, and some members of Crass. The original idea was that, if you already had a release on Crass, you couldn't have a second one (it was one of the label's principles), but you could always go to Corpus Christi, which was the route taken by Rudimentary Peni, Lack of Knowledge, Alternative, Conflict or Omega Tribe. It also meant that you did not have to have Penny Rimbaud as a sound engineer, which gave more freedom to the recording bands (though I personally really like his work and his influence in the shaping of what has come to be known as "the typical anarchopunk sound"). Some bands on Corpus Christi, however, had never released anything on Crass Records before, which was the case for The Fits, a band that had previously been tied with labels like Beat the System!! or Rondelet Records. It is often said that there was more variety on Corpus Christi than on Crass but I tend to think that this impression has more to do with a superior flexibility and diversity in terms of production and sound (and of course, aesthetics) rather than style or songwriting strictly speaking. But I digress.

I first came across The Fits the same way I did many other second-wave UK punk bands in my teenage years: through a colossal Captain Oi discography. To be honest, I did not really like them at first and for a long time I would see this Blackpool band as a bit of an average act that had a couple of good songs but wrote too many fillers. If The Fits were a wrestler, in my mind, they would have been a mid carder like the Big Boss Man or Rick Martel (to give you some perspective, Abrasive Wheels would have definitely been Bret Hart). I think this had a lot to do with the way The Fits Punk Collection was curated. Arranging the songs in chronological order is usually the best choice you can make when dealing with such 80's punk bands since they almost always start great and then progressively turn pop-rock or New Romantic or whatever. But with The Fits, it was pretty much the other way around, since their first records were pretty bad but they eventually got better. It still meant that you had to listen to their whole first Lp before reaching the good stuff and it often proved too much for me at that age, especially since there were cd's with great songs from the beginning (I am aware it sounds a little silly but that was my listening practice back then). 

But let's talk about the band a little. Formed in Blackpool in 1979, their first Ep was the very shambolic and remarkably out-of-tune You Said we'd Never Make it. Of course, these three tracks opened the aforementioned cd compilation so it is little wonder that I was left unimpressed. I suppose it is enjoyable if you are into badly played, obnoxious snotty punk. It almost sounds experimental at times, though unintentionally. This first Ep was pretty successful and even got a repress on Beat the System Records, a Blackpool-based label that released very strong UK82 records, and although it doesn't get mentioned as often as the two mammoths Riot City and No Future, Beat the System was still responsible for putting out materials from Death Sentence, External Menace, Chaotic Youth, Uproar and One Way System (and Antisocial, but they sucked). The Fits then signed to Rondelet Records in 1981, a bigger indie label that had released records for Anti-Pasti (and later on for The Membranes, Special Duties and The Threats). Their 1982 Think for Yourself Ep was much better and showed what The Fits were actually good at, intense mid-paced punk-rock songs with loud aggressive vocals. The You're Nothing, You're Nowhere Lp recorded the same year had a very cool cover (but then The Fits often had a particular visual taste) but was pretty boring. I guess they were trying to build on the previous Ep but forgot that you actually had to write good songs for the formula to work well (for some reason the Lp got reissued in 2017 which shows once again that nostalgia is directionless). After some lineup changes (members from One Way System and the cruelly overlooked Chaotic Youth joined), The Fits recorded the convincing The Last Laugh Ep in 1982 (yes, that's three records in only one year, talk about productivity). The sound may not have been perfect but the songs were very catchy and energetic and you had some lovely hooks which showed that The Fits could actually write tuneful punk music without losing their angry vibe. I think it would not be far-fetched to claim that this Ep paved the way for the band's classic Ep, Tears of a Nation.

Not even one quid!

Generally, second-wave punk bands' defining moment could be located at their second or third records, but The Fits had to wait until their fifth one to reach that point (granted, they were so prolific in so short a time that lines became a bit blurry). After a meeting with the people from Crass (a rather funny recollection of the encounter is included in Glasper's Burning Britain), The Fits got a deal for an Ep on Corpus Christi which was recorded in June, 1983. Tears of a Nation is one of the strongest Ep's of the so-called UK82 wave and it sold well for good reasons. The Fits were at the top of their game in terms of focused songwriting and the sound is perfect, heavy, with a punky rawness, dark and powerful (it was produced by Barry Sage who also did the Test Tubes' celebrated Mating Sounds Lp). The title track was a threatening, desperate-sounding slow-paced number with rather depressive lyrics and a massive chorus that embodied the social despair of the times. Heavy stuff. "Bravado" was an angry, anthemic mid-paced song while "Breaking point" was a fast hardcore-ish one which showed that The Fits could also sound good when speeding up (the previous Ep pointed in that direction I suppose). The three songs were reminiscent of vintage One Way System (I suppose comparisons with Uproar, The Underdogs or Icons of Filth are relevant too here) in terms of boisterous intensity and gloomy songwriting, but still had The Fits' imprint. I am aware that we, collectively, have created a classifying discourse revolving around specific genres and aesthetics that comforts our modern way of looking at punk-rock. Like we need hashtags and keywords in order to comprehend music, we often try to retroactively force our analytical templates on cultural moments at the expense of relevance. What I mean is that Tears of a Nation may not fit (lol) perfectly the UK82 mould that the internet age has consecrated and it may be for the best. It is just a great record of raucous 80's punk-rock and in the end, that's all that matters. Besides, I am pretty sure that bands like No Hope for the Kids and all the other so-called "dark punk" bands around have been playing The Fits a lot (maybe even before it was cool again to be into UK82... the vicissitude of punk trends...). As for the cover, it may be The Fits' least original, with brooding pictures of the boys, looking half-way between cheesy heavy metal and mid-80's postpunk (ironically, this once corny look is more fashionable than ever... oh well). Unfortunately there is no insert, which is a bit of a shame, especially for a Corpus Christi record. 

Following this gem, The Fits released a split 12'' with Peter and the Test Tube Babies (an unlikely pairing but there you go) and two more Ep's, the rather good and melodic Action and the much less inspired Fact or Fiction. To tell you the truth, the songs included on those records were all at the end of the cd and I seldom listened as far. I do like the chorus on "Action" though. Obviously, it is not the end of The Fits' story since the band reformed and released a new cd single in 2013 and a full live album in 2015, but I haven't found the courage to listen to them yet. 


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