The Buzzcocks, ‘The Way’ — Album Review
As one of the initial Class of '77, the Buzzcocks immediately carved out their own niche in the world of all things punk. Leaving the controversy to the Sex Pistols and the politics to the Clash, the Buzzcocks set their controls for the heart of the song. By combining aspects of mid-'60s bands like the Kinks and the Who with the urgency of the sounds around them, the Buzzcocks created a brand of aggressive pop music that was all their own.
They issued a now legendary run of singles that have stood the test of time. With songs like 1977's 'What Do I Get?' and 1978's 'Everybody's Happy Nowadays,' they put melody and aggression hand in hand. Though the "classic" lineup disbanded in 1981, there have been reunions off and on. But since 1992, it's basically been a two-man operation of founding members Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley (both of whom sing and play guitar) at the helm. During the past two decades, their output has been -- for the most part -- pretty solid stuff. Though never reaching the heights of their original run, there have been many great songs and some genuinely exciting moments.
'The Way' is only the band's sixth album in the last 20 years and it's a corker. Things kick off with 'Keep On Believing,' a rousing rocker in classic Buzzcocks style written by Shelley. Though his voice has aged a bit, it's still unmistakably him and the song has all the band's trademarks that will surely bring a smile to longtime fans and new converts alike. 'People Are Strange Machines' is up next with Diggle front and center. It's another taste of prime Buzzcocks recalling their classic 1978 single, 'Harmony In My Head.' Though most of the band's early hits were sung by Shelley, Diggle had his share of gems as well, and he has truly come into his own as time has gone on. All five of the songs we wrote for the album are first rate: his vocals have gotten more commanding and his guitar is still lethal.
On 'Virtually Real,' Shelley takes on the instant-gratification cyber-world we inhabit. He avoids sounding like some old guy complaining about the current state of things and instead comes off like an observer using phrases and language specific to the topic to tell the tale ("Profile updated, it's complicated / So tell me, how do you feel? / Virtually real?").
Another great Shelley song is 'It's Not You,' adorned by a slight metallic sheen to good effect. Another real gem on the album is Diggle's 'In The Back.' Its brash, mod-inspired chorus is instantly memorable and Diggle's melodic guitar line sweetens the deal. 'Third Dimension' hits a different mood altogether with a Motown-styled beat that suits things perfectly and another chorus that reels listeners in.
'Chasing Rainbows/Modern Times' could be a long lost track from the band's first incarnation -- it has the same urgency and vibe that soaked so many of their classic early songs but still manages to sound absolutely fresh and vibrant. It's all about attitude and feel as well as ability here. The Buzzcocks still know how to sell the song and, though hardly the young guns they once were, they never come off as contrived or tired.
The album ends a bit out of character with 'Saving Yourself.' They slow down on the tempo, get a bit riff-heavy, but maintain the urgency. Though the song enlists a heavier than usual approach, they steer clear of cliche in the guitar hero department, opting for a melodic guitar run instead of blazing solo.
So does this album go toe to toe with 1978's 'Another Music In A Different Kitchen' and 'Love Bites' or 1979's 'A Different Kind Of Tension'? No, those early albums are not likely to be outdone. But does 'The Way' hold its own with the rest of their catalog? Yes. The songs are among the best the guys have dished out in the past 20 years and the slight world weariness in the vocal department actually helps sell the songs. 'The Way' sounds like the Buzzcocks of 2014 and not some generic re-enactment of their younger self. In other words, they've still got some fire in their bones.