(From New Noise, UK-based online music magazine, October 2003.)
Killing Joke - For Beginners
by Justin Langshaw
Getting into old bands is great. At some stage everyone comes across something that they can't quite believe has evaded them for so long.
By far the best thing is a pre-existent volume of work that can be called upon almost all at once, to be consumed in a lusty frenzy of 60-track listening sessions, and two-month periods lost to immersion in something that was originally trickled out over the course of a decade.
I still remember the first time I actually thought Morrissey wasn't such a whinging dickhead after all, and resolved to spend a Saturday afternoon rifling through second-hand shops and the five for £30 bins to compile not only every Smiths album, but a decent chunk of a patchy solo career too.
I still remember figuring out for myself that 'Diamond Dog's was better than 'Ziggy'; that 'Desire' had aged better than 'Blonde on Blonde'.
Killing Joke (or rather EMI) have here done their best to squeeze seven albums and 24 years into a 16-track starter pack for those who were always put off by a slightly too maniacal moniker.
Rather than the usual trudge of singles and bonus tracks, however, there has been a concerted effort to demonstrate exactly what this post-punk outfit contributed to music after Sid was dead and everyone had caught glandular fever from all that spitting.
They are still difficult to categorise. Too arty to be a metal band, too rhythmical to be a punk band, too hard around the edges to be accessible, they owe as much to Joy Division as they do to the Pistols, squeezing new sounds and methods from a well-tried rock format of bass, guitars and drums.
Circular guitar patterns, forceful and doom laden, tin can percussion; there is no doubt they had their direction decided from the off and, most importantly, they do it with conviction and (in the early days at least) a decent amount of bile.
Due probably to copyright politics, some early EP work is missing, but no matter, the chronological order evolves well through the fruitful early years (their first three albums came out in less than three years, starting in 1980), represented by the excellent 'The Wait', and a live version of 'The Fall of the Because'.
The late-80s are represented by the angular likes of 'We Have Joy', all robotic mantra and dance metal, and the Jam-meets-The Cure of 'Wilful Days'.
The most recent work is effectively the solo work of composer extraodinaire, and real-life musical genius, Jaz Coleman. It has (predictably) the glossiest production and makes the easiest listening.
'Obsession' sounds like Duran Duran, and 'My Love of This Land' sounds like, erm, Morrissey, whom, as I have already explained, is not such a whinging dickhead after all. 'Rubicon', however, is a mix of the two, set atop the kind of new-wave industrial goth-dance that Trent Reznor would be proud of.
If it were a just world, this compilation wouldn't exist, as everyone would know who they were already. It is a crime that The Cure, Joy Division and The Smiths enjoy something of a revival while KJ remain virtually undiscovered.
For existing fans: don't bother – though live versions and remixes are novel enough, and it saves you carrying a whole bunch of CDs around. For the uninitiated: do one of two things. Either buy this or rummage through the aforementioned discount bins and spend the equivalent amount on the first three albums.
You just won't believe they have evaded you for so long.