Thursday, 21 September 2017

Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols - The Sex Pistols

Provenance: I'm no punk, believe you me, but this is as canonical as it gets. Got this in an independent record store in Bournemouth that was by the town centre bus stops. The guy who worked there absolutely loathed me for liking bands wot did guitar solos.

Review: You've got to be shitting me, right? This ain't punk.

To clarify - formally, Never Mind the Bollocks... is closer to some of the classic rock and power pop of the era than it is to its genre contemporaries. Trying to speak intelligently about punk as either an aesthetic or an attitude is difficult, because it often depends where and when you're talking about.

But if you associate punk with a lo-fi sound, an amateur ethos and a prickle of danger, you would not be thinking about the Sex Pistols. This album is every bit as big, bright and chunky as any of the classic rock bands supposedly so derided by the young pups of punk. Never Mind the Bollocks... is also a wonderful bit of grave-robbing, as practically every guitar lick is copped from the golden age of rock 'n' roll. That's not just me either - goddamn Chuck Berry could hear it too. Hell, for a gaggle of snotty upstarts they certainly do like their interpolating guitar breaks, as much as any blooz rock band. The one element that does stand out from the crowd is Johnny Rotten's sneering alveolar trill, but even then, is it any weirder than, say, Family's Roger Chapman?

And yeah, one other thing - the songs are fucking brilliant.

At the end of the day, who gives a monkeys if the Sex Pistols were ultimately resurrection boys who added a smear of mucus to their retrograde rockin'? There are still real, visceral thrills to be had; the blathering about going under the Berlin Wall on 'Holidays In The Sun', the sand-blast nastiness of 'Bodies' and that opening couplet of 'God Save The Queen' are all absolutely spot on. I should probably acknowledge that, writing in 2017, I've become somewhat inured to the 'Sex Pistols as shockmasters' narrative, especially as every blessed documentary about British pop music in the 1970s is obliged to include a transition depicting the dinosaurs of prog (scene: Peter Gabriel dressed as a flower) being swept away (music: opening bars of 'Pretty Vacant') by the rising tide of punk (scene: it's only the bloody Sex Pistols!). Yawn.

The truth is, Never Mind the Bollocks... is little more than an update of a structure and sound that was popular twenty years before its release (rock 'n' roll, baby), and one could make the argument that its simple chord progressions and cavernous drum sound are the legacy of a genre - glam rock - that had its heyday only a few years prior. If you sped up the stomp of, say, Slade, Gary Glitter or Mud, would it sound so different to what the Pistols were selling? To these jaded ol' ears, the most 'punk' song on the album is 'Sub-Mission', if only because it wouldn't be out of place on Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power. 

The Sex Pistols were a great band, who represented a mood, a time and a moment that was bigger than they were. Ultimately, the music didn't go anywhere daring, but nor did it have to. It was still recognisably loud, spirited and disruptive, and if not revolutionary then certainly revanchist when it came to rock 'n' roll reclaiming the mantle of rebellion. And besides, even if I were not privy to even a semi-quaver of their music, I would love them anyway purely on the basis of their interview with Bill Grundy. Also, there's a good chance that had the Sex Pistols not existed we wouldn't have been treated to Sloppy Seconds and that, frankly, is an intolerable state of affairs.

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