Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Buzzcocks

  • Singles Going Steady [I.R.S., 1979] A-
  • A Different Kind of Tension [I.R.S., 1980] B+
  • Lest We Forget [ROIR, 1988] A-
  • Operators Manual: Buzzcocks Best [I.R.S., 1991] A
  • Trade Test Transmissions [Caroline, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • All Set [I.R.S., 1996] ***
  • Modern [Go-Kart, 1999] ***
  • Buzzcocks [Merge, 2002] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Singles Going Steady [I.R.S., 1979]
The title is the perfect conceit for this collection of eight relentless British forty-fives--arranged chronologically, the A sides on the A side and the B sides on the B--about love and lust among the unmarrieds. The Buzzcocks' knack for the title hook and the catchy backup chorus, along with their apparently asocial lyrics, tempts tastemakers in jaded olde England to dismiss them as mere pop, but over here their high-speed, high-register attack sounds powerful indeed. The best song on the record, "Orgasm Addict," is the most cynical; the second-best, "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," is the most gleeful. Good sign. A-

A Different Kind of Tension [I.R.S., 1980]
I suppose people call them a pop band because they still write about love, but that they say "I can't love you" rather than the usual does make a difference. Not in profundity--one sentiment is as banal as the other--but in a mood that suits a sound as bright and abrasive as new steel wool. Pete Shelley articulates his truisms with insight as well as flair, especially in "You Say You Don't Love Me" and "I Believe." My favorite, though, is Steve Diggle's "You Know You Can't Help It," about sex, which I'm happy to report he likes--although he does observe that "love makes war." Hey, does it? B+

Lest We Forget [ROIR, 1988]
A 19-cut compilation recorded at seven U.S. gigs in '79 and '80, long after Howard Devoto had gone his foolish way, this is half Singles Going Steady, only with the opposite effect--instead of proving how tight and commercial they are, it proves how raw and punky they were. Which combination is definitely no contradiction--in fact, it establishes their classic status once and for all. You'll miss "Orgasm Addict" and "Everybody's Happy Nowadays." But you won't need them. A-

Operators Manual: Buzzcocks Best [I.R.S., 1991]
Punk's most incandescent singles band was rarely just catchy or even catchy-abrasive--these guys had a vision. Pete Shelley's wry, acrid, eager, inside-out romanticism connected with every kind of near-adult, and why not? But I'm betting that what inspired him to insist that his anger was about sex, defying punk's party line and inventing "power pop" in the process, was also what kept him in the closet until "Homosapien." A

Trade Test Transmissions [Caroline, 1993]
"Palm of Your Hand" Choice Cuts

All Set [I.R.S., 1996]
love life much smoother, music summat ("Totally From the Heart," "Point of No Return") ***

Modern [Go-Kart, 1999]
Looking for the same new love with the same new tunes ("Thunder of Hearts," "Why Compromise?"). ***

Buzzcocks [Merge, 2002]
callow punk alienation as reliable folk wisdom ("Friends," "Lester Sands") *