The second instalment in this series of newly remastered albums by Crass covers the period from 1981 through the bands final curtain call in 1984, by way of the last album to bear the name Crass in 86. Penis Envy says a whole lot more than the title suggests over blistering guitars, thumping drums and twanging basslines, and yet has an open musicality to it that set them far apart from their supposed contemporaries of the Punk era. Featuring the vocals of Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre its message speaks for itself, remaining entirely relevant to today. And what is also revealed is the sonic depth which is teased out by the freeform exploration of sounds employed by the group on tracks like What The Fuck? Their fourth album Christ, The Album is an amalgamation of live recordings, new music and experimental fragments, again fuelling the progression of music even adding horns and strings along with just about thing else into the mix. Opening the box containing the vinyl, artwork and accompanying booklet of words and thoughts feels like your tampering with a long lost historical manuscript – which in ways you are – and that moment in itself is worth the price of nostalgic admission alone. Next is Yes Sir, I Will released in 1983 it combined the anger of previous years alongside the uncharacteristically quiet melodies of Anarchy’s Just Another Word and was originally realised as one continuous piece of sound, albeit a tense, unsettling rendition hitting you full force. In ways proving to be their most uncomfortable, hard-hitting work. By contrast is the final title, Ten Notes on a Summer’s Day which was released in 1986 and again transformed expectations of how the band will sound with another assault on the senses via words and music, although this time with a looser, more improvised feel. No one else sounding quite like them. A bygone era? You can listen again now.
With cynicism and self-interest all the rage nowadays it is easy to forget there was once something else to occupy all your precious time, exciting perspectives both inwards and outwards towards the world, alongside the people that surrounded you. Looking back from the gaze of popular myth Punk has become such a loaded word now that it is almost outweighed by its own definition. It either means a bloated accumulation of vomit or spit, defined by acting dumb, restoratively repeating the same clichés… or by a more positive shout against things you want to see actively changed, which was about being forward-thinking and constructive – more about liberating thoughts, not confining them. The formers’ meaning has been swallowed up by the lazy journalism stating that in the race towards a nostalgic nirvana there really only was one, or maybe two, bands which really counted in the grand scheme of the promised rebellion. The question deserves to be asked in that process: why have Crass largely been ignored in the re-telling of Punk history? Especially given that like every other movement, or collection of ideas centred on youth, the passage of time alongside the mainstream of public consciousness absorb, soften and twist the original meaning to suit their own needs. Rendering moments as fashion accessory, or worse still advertising soundtracks selling corporate product. After all, it’s easy to package anger as good for business, adding clicks to the bait. Those independent, DIY train of thoughts which had traversed all of the important points in time from The Beats through to House Music’s original spirit are as keenly relevant now as then. And through the passage of time it is Crass who have remained most closely bound to those ideals. In today’s world it seems almost inconceivable that a group of people would actually bother to take the time to form a union of political ideas, coupled with fiercely demanding music to ask and probe at questions which were just as important to any concept of age. In one word, Crass.
Like no other UK band from that original era, begining in the late seventies, what was said was meant. What was played was also meant. You never get to question integrity: Or are they selling out? Or they too commercial now? Are they just rehashing the same old dream? Are they simply generating money? Are the headlining Glastonbury? What happened to the original ideal? These questions never got to be asked because none of them applied. The band stopped in 1984. And all of that is something quite unique in the days of money counting for everything and where popularity contest is a welcome game.
In one sense Crass were initially musically defined and limited by the angry growl that Punk shot against the world of boredom and conformity. Perhaps neatly summed up by: Do they owe us a living? Of course they fucking do! But that first blur of anger soon gave way to something more creatively and sonically stimulating. Listen to the opening Asylum on The Feeding Of The 5000 with its brutal combination of freeform feedback and pointed words for a start. Or their John Cage inspired use of ‘silence’ amid the virulent thrashing of They’ve Got a Bomb. They were different to almost everyone else at the time, not just because they fused ideas and modes of living together with a particular way of delivering that musically, but also you were extremely unlikely to see them bothering TOTP live, via video, or otherwise at anytime. Unlike many of their contemporaries they weren’t pretending not to be popstars under cover of a fake story.
Stations Of The Crass and Feeding Of The Five Thousand (The Second Sitting) were their first two studio album releases, with the irony of Best Before 1984 forming a compilation of some of their most cherished numbers.
The point of these re-releases is twofold. You can now hold physical copies of either CD or the freshly pressed Vinyl, not something which has been was available to experience unless you sought out the originals’ second-hand. You will also get to unfold the accompanying life sized artwork in your hands, which formed an integral part of the story of sounds and visuals. Plus, that you have the promise of the music sounding as it was conceived, stripped free of the production process’s applied decades ago. Working with One Little Indian Records this first in a series of re-releases have been remastered by Alex Gordon along with Penny Rimbaud at Abbey Road Studios.