(From Plan B, US music magazine, January 2005.)
Words: John Doran
Let's get something straight: punk was shit. The
Clash's pub rock was so leaden and sludgy it could have reduced even Rudolf
Nureyev to dancing like a pensioner with a false leg. Take John Lydon out of
the Sex Pistols and what are you left with? A clueless thug in a swastika tee
and three interchangeable and talentless barrow boys, that's what. Don't get me
started on the fucking Stranglers or The Damned. No, it was everything that was
left churned up in the wake after the whole sorry scene mercifully ran aground
that provides the real invention and interest. Joy Division's mordant hymns to
the horrors of modern life; The Fall's working class intellectual riot; The Pop
Group's delirium tremens disco – the list is, if not endless, fairly extensive.
But probably the most interesting group to come streaking out of the traps in the post-1978 revivification of English guitar music was Killing Joke. They peddled a psychotic blend of disco, tribal and dub rhythms over-laden with excoriating guitar stabs and Jaz Coleman's paranoid chant. And this compilation, a collection of album tracks, live cuts and unreleased material as well as the odd single, faithfully represents their sound and skewed worldview a lot more successfully than a singles collection could. (Obvious tracks such as 'Love Like Blood' and 'Eighties' are missing – being contained on an earlier 'hits' package Laugh? I Nearly Bought One!) As with their career, the first two thirds of this disc contains the gems. 'The Wait' is awash with buzzing Moogs, dampened minor chord aggression and propulsive war drums. Listening to any of the first ten tracks on this album is like listening to the blueprint to industrial rock as we know it today being laid down. By the mid-80s, LSD, egomania and mental breakdown had taken their toll on the group (Youth got sectioned under the mental health act, the rest of the band fled to Iceland because they thought the world was ending) and this compilation ends before the group's critical rehabilitation with 'Pandemonium'. The upshot of this is that the last few tracks serve as a warning against taking psychoactive drugs, rather then anything you'd actually want to listen to. A more conventional compilation would presumably have included the absolutely essential 'Psyche', 'Change' and 'Turn To Red', but otherwise this is as good and exciting as a Killing Joke compilation CD is going to get. Let's hope that the anonymous person who compiled this gets let loose on more of EMI's post-punk back catalogue.