Anthology – Volume 1
I’m here to jot a few notes about the new Chelsea reissue Anthology – Volume 1 but they sent me nine, count ’em NINE cd’s of Chelsea material. It’s overwhelming, and I’ll just comment on the punk era disks. The collection is marketed under the titles Anthology – Volume 1 through Anthology – Volume 3, each with three full albums plus a few floor sweepings of bonus tracks and demos. If you love this band, the collection is heaven, and if not, well that’s why Ink 19 is here: to listen to rock and roll so you don’t have to.
If you never heard of this band you’re not alone; their main claim to fame is three founding members (William Broad aka “Billy Idol,” Tony James and John Towe) quickly left the band to from Generation X, a much more commercially successful project. They actually split off before Chelsea’s first release “Right to Work” in 1977 so the attachment to this collection is minimal at best.
But enough history, what’s the sonic landscape in this collection? I’m happy to report it’s upbeat, raw and energetic, and while Chelsea never went on the artistic recognition as the Damned or the Rezillos, their sound is pop-influenced yet powerful, their lyrics are complex compared to their contemporaries and the anger level is just about right. The minor local hit “Right to Work” is not the best track on disk one, but it’s respectable and has achieved no little recognition in the rankings. Much better are numbers like “I’m On Fire” or “Your Toy” or “Fools and Soldiers,” they have more interesting choruses and stronger hooks. While the music is strong, the lyrics aren’t brilliant even by punk standards; the band sounds like they’ve spent some time cheering for their local footie team.
Their second album Alternative Hits opens with “No Escape”. Turn down the lyrics and it’s basically Sky Saxon’s “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Arguments have been make that Saxon’s 1967 release was really the first punk single. I’ll not take a position on that controversy but the musical similarity is undeniable. Here’s where you’ll find the album release of Right to Work, and it’s three years after the single came out. In a music scene as dynamic as early Brit punk, that’s an eternity. Clearly Right to Work has working class cred; it voices the pain of the disenfranchised working class. Interestingly, there’s no trace of the ska sound that was influencing their scenemates The Clash. From this distance, it seems like these boys never made the cutting edge of music although “No One is Coming Outside” effectively displays the power pop back bone of punk, and while its lyrics are B-, the tune is A+.
Moving up to 1982’s Evacuate, we are on the back end of punk’s fiery rise; the L.A. “New Wave” scene had hijacked both the press attention and sales volume. Some bands shifted gears and bought neat jackets; the hardcore elders kept the original sound alive and retreated to smaller and dingier spaces. Chelsea’s music hasn’t shifted much although their guitar playing is cleaner and more confident. “How Do You Know About Me?” may be the musical peak of this hex-ology. Here Chelsea has somehow refined its sound to a level where an unfamiliar expert on the genre could say: “London, June ’82, but I don’t know who is singing.” Solid compositions abound. “Cover Up” has influences of Blondie while “Tribal Song” loses the guitar lead and relies more on a polyphonic drum sound.
As we enter the back end of this journey, 1985’s Original Sinners (included on Anthology – Volume 2) takes the band from punk to the world of hard rock and metal. Influences on “Two More Hours” feel like tunes from Poison or Ratt; the punk froth-mouthed anger at the world has grown up to a more sullen working class “Got a job, going nowhere” anger. I don’t have pictures of the band at this juncture but the sound is more bleachrf blond shoulder-length rocker hair; the spikes and skinhead attitude are mere memories in their Year Book of Life. We even hear what might be considered a nice little love song “Monica Monica.” Has this band grown up? I did, and so did my punk buddies, and now we have kids and lawns. Punk â€” it’s fun while it lasts…