Album review: ANGELIC UPSTARTS – The Albums 1979-82

Captain Oi!/Cherry Red [Release date 27.04.18]

It’s quite fitting that a Cherry Red label are releasing this box set of the first five Angelic Upstarts albums, as it was their Anagram Records imprint that released the faultless “Angel Dust” collection in 1983.  The punk rock band, originally formed in South Shields in 1977, were signed to Anagram at that point, and “Angel Dust” successfully combined the pick of their WEA and EMI releases with two more recent tracks.

Housed in a sturdy box, the five albums here (all of which contain period bonus tracks) are each represented in individual card sleeves containing their original artwork.  There’s also a 20 page booklet with a potted history of the band and images of the original single and album sleeves, archive press cuttings and band photos.

The current line-up of the band, still fronted by the inimitable Mensi, are playing the whole of their 1979 debut album “Teenage Warning” live in 2018, and it’s that album which kicks off this set.  The title track was released as a single and earned the Upstarts an unlikely appearance on Top of the Pops.  One of the most political and thought-provoking bands of the punk era, their debut packs some power and ‘I’m An Upstart’ remains a career highlight and one of the classic punk singles.  The 12 tracks from the original album are augmented by both sides of their earlier debut single (‘The Murder Of Liddle Towers’ and ‘Police Oppression’) which were released by the band’s own Dead Records label, and later repressed by Rough Trade/Small Wonder.

The band really hit their peak on the following two albums.  1980’s “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” was named after the album closer, which finds the band stamping their own distinctive style on a cover of the 1960’s single by The Animals.  ‘Never ‘Ad Nothin’’ is a powerful opener, ‘Shotgun Solution’ was aimed at a former manager of the group, while ‘Out Of Control’ was a “Single Of The Week” in Sounds.

1981’s “Two Million Voices” was their first album for EMI’s Zonophone label and is another fine effort.  The four singles lifted from the album – ‘Last Night Another Soldier’, ‘England’, ‘I Understand’ and ‘Kids On The Street’ – are all killer tracks.  The latter features Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson, of whom Mensi commented that on this track he realised how good he was on the drums: “when he was hitting them, I was sure they would bust at any minute.  Bryan Ferry’s loss was our gain.”

On an album full of quality, other gems include the title track, ‘You’re Nicked’, ‘Guns For The Afghan Rebels’ (still topical in 2018), ‘Jimmy’ and ‘We’re Gonna Take The World’.

1981’s “Live” is a fairly lo-fi recording which nonetheless captures the power and force of the band in concert.  Added to the original album are the four tracks from the flexi disc that came with the original pressing (including covers of ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘White Riot’).

The final long player here is widely regarded as the band’s career nadir, 1982’s rather sorry “Still From The Heart”.  Produced by Steve Levine (who later that year would enjoy huge success with Culture Club), this was the record label’s ill-advised attempt to reinvent the band as a synth-pop band.  Lead single ‘Never Say Die’ still stands up, and the album has its occasional moments (‘Theme For Lost Souls’ is an interesting departure, and ‘I Stand Accused’ works well) but overall the change in style alienated a lot of the band’s existing fans while failing to cross them over to a more mainstream audience

Early demo versions of three of the tracks (sadly not included here, but available elsewhere) highlight only too well how good material was affected.  ‘Action Man’ in particular was completely ruined and just sounds weak in comparison to the demo.  The same can be said for ‘Soldier’, although ‘Cry Wolf’ has a harder edge and ends up sounding a bit like another punk-turned-synth band of the time, Blitz (who will themselves be represented in box set form by Cherry Red in July).

It’s a shame that 1983’s “Reason Why?” isn’t included in this set as it represented something of a return to form, and included a couple of bona fide classics in the form of ‘Solidarity’ and ‘Woman In Disguise’.  However this 5CD set is worth picking up for the second and third albums alone – another fine addition to Cherry Red’s ever-expanding catalogue of box sets. ****

Review by Jim Henderson

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