Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A - The Adverts - "Cast of Thousands"

Welcome to round 2 (or “Phase 2”, as the Vanilla Fudge might call it) of my “record of the day” reviews. I’m really going to work at being a little more concise with this next batch, but remember: I’m not judging them on their quality necessarily, but more on how they affect, impact, or bug me personally. So if one of your favorites ends up ripped to shreds, it’s not personal, it’s just that that particular album sucked. Okay? OK!

The Adverts were one of the first punk groups to record in England in the aftermath of the Sex Pistols. There first singles - the proud sarcasm of “One Chord Wonders” & morbidly danceable “Gary Gillmore’s Eyes” - remain true classics, & I’m to understand that their first album “Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts” is still well thought of, though I’ve yet to hear it in whole (“Bored Teenagers” was on a compilation and is very good). Singer/songwriter TV Smith sang in a high strangled voice (much more Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s Midnight Runners than Johnny Rotten), & bassist Gaye Advert was debatably the first punk pinup girl (Joan Jett totally copied her look: yes, I know the Runaways were around first, but Joan’s image was initially more lace than leather. By the time “Bad Reputation” was released, she was virtually a carbon copy of Gaye, except without the strung out overtones.) Instrumentally, the band was eh, awright.

“Cast of Thousands” is often described as the stereotypical “difficult” second album, owing to a supposed drop off in quality, which may have been the case, as the Adverts broke up soon after its release. As I’ve not heard their first record, comparing the two is not for me to judge. I will say though that this record is not very good. The most annoying quality is the production: the vocals, bass, and keyboards are jacked up, and the guitar and drums are turned WAY down (it’s hard to hear ANY electric guitar on the record. This must have been intended as a reaction away from the punk sound (it WAS 1979, after all), as the piano, massed backing vocals, and acoustic guitars attest to, yet it simply is not an attractive sound and undermines much of the material.) There are a few songs that are strong enough to survive (“Cast of Thousands”, “The Adverts”, “Television’s Over”, & “I Looked at the Sun”), but the rest go by without leaving any trace of their existence behind (three of them (“Male Assault”, “I Surrender”, “I Will Walk You Home” are flat out crap, no matter how you produce them). The better lyrics tend to be more in the personal vein rather than social or political; the latter are awfully generic and much too cliché for British punk.

On the plus side, TV’s vocals are expressive despite the weird sound, with him truly working up a lather on the title track and “I Looked at the Sun”. Also, um…they all apply eyeliner well. Yeah, that’s about it.

VERDICT: this audience of one gives “Cast of Thousands” a thumbs down.
VIDEO: this was taken from an indie German film; the latter 2 songs are from this album, and come off a LOT better live than on record. And of course “Gary Gillmore’s Eyes” is still awesome.

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