What Do I Look Like, An Indian?
Rough Trade Shops- Post-Punk Vol. 01

I've got as many reservations about this new Rough Trade Compilation as the cat who wrote the liner notes portends to have about the term "post-punk" (loosen up guys, its better than electro-clash, at least its suitably ambiguous). It strikes me as more than a little dishonest and juvenile the way they hem and haw over the term in the liner notes. This is the main problem with Post-Punk Vol. 01; Rough Trade is attempting to play both hands by frowning on the very categorization they are reinforcing and capitalizing on (you guys are still hip, so just relax and enjoy your Crass records) with this collection. This also explains the marketing angle of sprinkling modern bands, considered to be the progeny of the late 70's early 80's post-punk bands, throughout the two c.d.'s. But this very impulse to try to cover several bases at once, please the purists and the new converts/hipsters (while also mocking them, natch), ends up diluting the package and its impact. If you're gonna be a snob you might as well go all out. They would have had done better to have Volume 1 consist of just the music of the original period, including more hard to find material and then issue a second volume containing recent bands they considered to be torch- bearers for the era.

Vol. 01 could also have benefited from greater diversity in the definition of Post-Punk, something more along the lines of the NME C-81 tape. Diversity being one of the very things that made the era so fresh and exhilarating, and attractive now in retrospect. A period that boasted the Two-Tone stable, Afrika Bambatta, the Marine Girls, Wipers, Vic Godard and the Subway Sect, Pylon, Dexys Midnight Runners, and The Mekons need not be defined so narrowly. This problem, unfortunately, also extends to the modern bands included here, as most are a little TOO slavish in their imitations of bands like the Delta 5 and the Au Pairs. The collision of punk and funk/dance created some great music, but if you can't bring anything original to the table what's the point? These "millennial cusp" bands do little to increase the diversity of this set, although some are worthwhile offspring: say Life Without Buildings, Gramme and The Rogers Sisters.

With all that said, Post-Punk Vol. 01 could be useful in exposing those unfamiliar with this period to a large section of the bands who traded in the interface of punk and dance/funk. And the sequencing, complaints aside, is somewhat deft. For those who already own much of this material, it is interesting to hear different tracks out of their original context. Particularly some of the more po-faced/rhetoric inspired bands that can become grating in a whole album context: I'm thinking especially of Gang of Four, and the Au Pairs (a Greil Marcus wet dream if ever there was one).

It's also crucial to note that Scritti Politti's incredible "Skank Bloc Bologna" and Shockheaded Peters controversial "I, Bloodbrother Be" are both included here in what is, to my knowledge, their first appearance on c.d.. These are the definite highlights of the collection and you can almost justify the purchase of the two c.d. set on the strength of these two songs alone. The rest of the tracks you probably have heard before, and most vary from decent to inspired, with the notable exception of the truly awful "For My Country" by UK Decay. The inclusion of this song seems to have been a concession to the aforementioned liner note scribe who invites interested parties to visit him to view his UK Decay rarities, an offer extended surely in the knowledge that there will be no takers. The same chap, I believe, admits in the introduction to the accompanying booklet that he prefers punk to post-punk, which makes one wonder about the wisdom of placing someone who is less than enthusiastic about the period in charge of anthologizing it.

© 2003 William Crain