The Day The Country Died, EP/LP, From The Cradle To The Grave, Rats/Time Flies, Worlds Apart, 29:29 Split Vision
Among the best of the second wave of British punk (faint praise, admittedly, when the competition is GBH and The Exploited), England’s Subhumans were against the stuff all the other anarcho-punk bands were against but tended to have better musicianship and a sense of humor about it, as well as an ability to take musical chances. Sure, Crass could tell you the dangers of racism, sexism, and organized religion, but could they write a song as crushingly catchy as “Religious Wars?”
Bluurg Records recently reissued the six original Subhumans albums, and they sound as vital and angry as originally. If you had to pick up just one of the reissues, the band’s first LP, 1982’s The Day the Country Died, would be absolutely essential. Sixteen songs with almost no pause between them, it is a snapshot of radical British concerns of the time, and an exciting, vibrantly musical album. While the songs favor faster mid-tempo punk, there are surprises like the slow build of “Subvert City” and the fast paced songs like “I Don’t Wanna Die,” all showing the band’s secret weapon, guitarist Bruce Treasure.
If you were to only get one album, though, you would miss out on EP/LP, a brilliant compilation of early 7″ EPs. Standouts include the reggae inflected “Only Human Error” and the aforementioned blazing “Religious Wars,” a song that can be used as a “go to” staple if anyone asks, “Just what is punk music, anyway?”
The band’s most ambitious LP, From the Cradle to the Grave, is worth picking up for the title track alone, an epic 16-minute plus song decrying socialization and easy compromises from a single life. On vinyl, this “rock opera” took up an entire side of an album and, although its length was about five times longer than the typical punk song, the band’s musicality and tempo changes make it a compelling and catchy listen. Sort of similar to The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away,” From the Cradle to the Grave seems made up of a number of shorter songs, but seamlessly played as one epic song. If The Who’s song ends on a thundering high, “From the Cradle to the Grave” ends with a whimper, a resignation of a wasted life.
Rats/Time Flies, another EP compilation also showcases the band’s more experimental side, with songs like “Susan” abandoning the standard punk lineup for piano, a couple of live tracks (which sound surprisingly good, especially considering the state of live punk recordings from the time, like the muddled Live and Loud series), and more reggae influenced tunes like “People are Scared.”
1985’s Worlds Apart, while not as frenzied as the previous releases, still shows the band with a firm grasp of mid-tempo punk, along with surprises like the instrumental opener “33322,” which wouldn’t be out of place on an early Killing Joke album or the a capella intro into “Straightline Thinking.” Worlds Apart suffers in comparison to the earlier albums, but if it were released today under a different name, it would be hailed as an amazingly strong punk album.
The final album, 29:29 Split Vision, shows the band getting more musical and expanding the experiments in reggae and ska that would characterize singer Dick Lucas’s upcoming work, as well as an experiment in “talking over” a song, similar to Gang of Four’s “Anthrax.” While “getting more musical” is usually the kiss of death for punk or hardcore bands (check out the metal albums by DYS, DRI, Void, or Discharge), Subhumans are able to pull it off, probably because the band had already displayed a talent for melody and musicianship. Still, if you’re interested in checking out any of the Subhumans’ work, 29:29 probably wouldn’t be a good starting point.
All the reissues come in great looking digipacks with fold-out posters and lyric booklets, the same as the original vinyl, just shrunk down a bit. While it would have been nice to have booklets explaining a bit more about each album and band interviews, the packaging is well thought out and a nod to the original albums.
All six CDs are good, the first three are essential, blistering critiques of modern personal and political life brimming with amazing songs. Seriously, “Religious Wars.” If that song doesn’t move you, there’s really not much hope.