In rock 'n' roll, one key factor separates the truly timeless bands from the
merely trendy ones: great songwriting. So it's no surprise that 31 years
after they formed in Manchester at the height of the punk era, and 17 years
after they reunited to begin the second act of their career, the Buzzcocks
are as powerful today as ever.
With their recent album "Flat-Pack
Philosophy," guitarists, vocalists and songwriters Pete Shelley and Steve
Diggle have produced another set of songs every bit as energizing and
indelible as earlier classics such as "Autonomy," "Harmony in My Head" and
"Ever Fallen in Love?" And with a lineup that's been together twice as long
as the original band -- with bassist and producer Tony Barber and drummer
Phil Barker replacing veterans Steve Garvey and John Maher -- the quartet
remains one of the most powerful punk bands to ever take the stage.
I spoke with Shelley in the midst of the band's current tour, the day
after the group played its last show as part of Warped, before starting a
club jaunt that brings it to Chicago this weekend.
Q. It's odd to think of you guys on Warped, Pete, given that
you and Steve are old enough to be many of the other bands' grandfathers.
Was it fun?
A. Yes, and it was completely different than what I imagined it
would be like. I thought the venues were these giant amphitheatres, and I
wondered, "Oh, how are they going to manage that?" But they dispensed of the
amphitheatres and held it in the car parks.
Q. It was ironic to see you on that bill, given that several
songs on "Flat-Pack Philosophy" -- the title track and "Credit" -- are
vehemently anti-consumerist. At Warped, it's hard to find a single surface
that hasn't been sponsored by some corporation.
A. Well, I suppose that's our age of mass entertainment! [Laughs]
It's the same thing in Britain now as well, where the Reading festival is
known as the Carling [Lager] Reading Festival. But you know, when we started
out, the very idea that there would someday be a big punk festival like that
at all was unthinkable.
Q. Few bands in rock have come back and given us a second act
as great as the first.
A. Thank you! A lot of people seem to agree with that, which comes
as a bit of a shock! [Laughs]
Q. Were there younger fans at Warped who were hearing songs
such as "Ever Fallen in Love?" for the first time?
A. Yes! I met someone who had a copy of the new album, and he
didn't really know we'd been around before! He had the "Tony Hawk's American
Wasteland" soundtrack, which featured the band Thursday doing a cover of
"Ever Fallen in Love?," and he liked that song and decided to see what we
Q. What was the goal when you entered the studio to record the
A. We went in about two years ago, which was about a year after
the last album [2003's self-titled "Buzzcocks'] had been released. We laid
down a bunch of tracks -- Steve [Diggle] had finished his songs, but there
were six or seven of mine that didn't have lyrics yet. So it was about
February of last year when we went back into the studio to finish up. We
mixed it and listened to it for about three weeks and thought, "Well, we
could do a better job." So we went to a different studio and about a week
after that we got a brand new album that was originally released in the U.K.
in May of last year.
Q. How is recording now different from making an album like
1978's "Another Music in a Different Kitchen"?
A. Well, in those days, we had all the songs already written, and
we would just go into the studio and record them. There were a few
discoveries along the way, but mainly, there was a good idea of what we were
going to get. Now, we create a lot more in the studio.
Q. It's rare for a band to have two extraordinary songwriters.
Do you and Steve compete with each other for space on the album?
A. Yes, sometimes, I suppose so. But we always leave the final
choices to our producer, who happens to be our bassist. He can mediate.
Q. How would you compare this lineup to the one that started
out with Howard Devoto, or the group most early fans remember with Steve
Garvey and John Maher?
A. I do think there is something more second-nature about it now,
because after 30 years, if you don't get it right, you must be doing the
wrong thing! I actually think Steve and I enjoy it more now, because we know
what it is that we're supposed to do and how we're supposed to do it. The
manner we play is not so much to convince people that we are good; it's
almost like joining in and agreeing with them. The audience is actually
enjoying it, hearing the new songs and the old songs, and so are we.
REASONS FOR LIVING
Time once again to dive into the always-overflowing bin of D.I.Y.
releases by local artists.
Inspired by my recent column about a pop hype of the moment -- "As
someone else who can't sing, I realized I have the potential to be the Paris
Hilton of the Baby Boomer generation," he wrote -- adman by day, lounge
crooner by night Bruce Bendinger (above) sent along his new album
"Can't Sing, Don't Care: Songs from the Hip" on the local Southport Records.
The twisted take on vintage spaceage bachelor pad exotica isn't nearly as
unlistenable as the self-deprecating Bendinger claims: Its gonzo charms can
be heard in the first track, "Just Trippin' With You," which offers a string
of love-as-transportation metaphors, including, "Your love is my
transportation/And it's always first class." Bendinger is planning an
August record release show; visit www.adbuzz.com.
Public Four is a local group with a much more conventional take
on romance: "My heart is a radio /And it plays for me every day," the
group declares on "Mockingbird," one of four strong tracks on its debut EP,
"Animal Grammar." The quartet owes a clear debt to Britpop and shoegazer
bands such as Blur, Supergrass and My Bloody Valentine, but it's never
overly derivative, and its smart and hook-laden songwriting marks it as a
band to watch. Public Four will play a record release party at the Hideout,
1354 W. Wabansia, on a bill with Central Standard that starts at 9:30 p.m.
on July 20. Visit the group on the Web at www.myspace.com/publicfour.