Album review: BUZZCOCKS – Sell You Everything 1991-2014

BUZZCOCKS – Sell You Everything 1991-2014

Cherry Red [Release date 29.05.20]

The recent release of new single ‘Gotta Get Better’ marked the beginning of “Phase 3” of Buzzcocks, now solely fronted by Steve Diggle following the death of Pete Shelley in December 2018. With most “Phase 2” albums long out of print, this 8CD set gathers together almost all of the band’s output from 1991 to 2014, as well as adding a generous amount of rare or previously unreleased tracks.

The classic Buzzcocks line up (with the original rhythm section of Steve Garvey and John Maher) initially regrouped in 1989, Diggle and Shelley having not spoken since the 1981 split. They played a series of live shows in the US, Europe and Japan. Maher then departed (to be replaced by ex-Smiths drummer Mike Joyce) but Garvey was still present for the recordings which make up the first disc of this box set.

The first 13 tracks on “The 1991 Demo Album” were originally circulated on a promo cassette, but this marks their first official release. There are an additional four demo tracks, along with the four that made up 1991’s ‘Alive Tonight’ EP. The demos are of excellent quality, and include many songs that were later re-recorded (as late as 2005 in the case of Diggle’s ‘Wallpaper World’) as well as some excellent ones that weren’t (‘Dreamin’, ‘Searching For Your Love’ and ‘Tranquillizer’). ‘Successful Street’ has a Who-feel, while ‘Serious Crime’ is Shelley at his irresistibly poppy best. Garvey’s earnest ‘Run Away From Home’ was originally a contender for the band’s aborted follow up to 1979’s “A Different Kind Of Tension”.

“Trade Test Transmissions” was released in 1993, and still sounds fresh and exciting. With Tony Barber and Phil Barker (both ex-Boys Wonder) replacing Garvey and Joyce, the album marked the first full length release in over a decade. Both songwriters were on fine form, with Shelley’s highlights including the perfect punk/pop of ‘Innocent’, the epic ‘Crystal Night’ and the ode to masturbation ‘Palm Of Your Hand’ (perhaps a belated follow up to the classic ‘Orgasm Addict’). Diggle’s contributions were arguably even stronger, with ‘Isolation’, ‘When Love Turns Around’ and ‘Unthinkable’ easily qualifying as three of his best ever songs. The pick of the nine bonus tracks is Diggle’s poignant studio outtake ‘Somewhere In The World’, which is a real gem.

“All Set” followed in 1996 and is a worthy but poorly sequenced album. The balance of Shelley/Diggle tracks always made Buzzcocks albums work, but here the first seven tracks are all Shelley compositions. Only three Diggle cuts made the original album, the most impressive of which is the aptly titled ‘What Am I Supposed To Do’. The blistering opener ‘Totally From The Heart’ picks up where the previous album left off, while two of Shelley’s other tracks are new recordings of songs that he originally released under the Zip moniker in 1988 – ‘Give It To Me’ and the fiery ‘Your Love’.

Buzzcocks were truly back on form, and a major label (EMI), for 1998’s “Modern”. This was a more balanced album than “All Set”. The joyous electro-tinged ‘Soul On A Rock’ sets the tone for what’s to come, and is equalled by the catchy ‘Thunder Of Hearts’. Both written by Pete Shelley, his other standout is the dark and brooding ‘Why Compromise?’ which is more reminiscent of his 1980s solo recordings. Steve Diggle cleverly apes Mott The Hoople’s ‘Roll Away The Stone’ in the verses of the awesome ‘Speed Of Life’. The cream of his other songs are ‘Don’t Let The Car Crash’ and the urgent ‘Turn Of The Screw’, while ‘Doesn’t Mean Anything’ is a ‘Born Slippy’ style foray into drum and bass, which shouldn’t work but actually does! Bonus cuts here are two Small Faces covers, originally recorded in 1995 for Nice Records.

2003’s self-titled album captured the band in ferocious form, and is the most powerful of any of the albums included in this set. Shelley’s ‘Jerk’ is an instant classic, and the band belt through 12 short, sharp tracks. An early Buzzcocks track ‘Lester Sands’, co-written by Shelley and the band’s original frontman Howard Devoto, is revisited here. The killer cut is Diggle’s ‘Sick City Sometimes’ (his melodic ‘Driving You Insane’ is another cracker), while bonus tracks include live versions of two songs recorded by the original line-up – ‘Paradise’ and ‘Oh Shit!’.

2006’s ‘Flat-Pack Philosophy’ is a slighter harder album to love. That said, Shelley’s ‘Wish I Never Loved You’ is classic ‘Cocks and would have slotted seamlessly onto the peerless “Singles Going Steady” collection. Among the eight extras are live recordings of two early Buzzcocks songs, ‘Love Battery’ and ‘Sixteen’, along with Diggle’s excellent demo of ‘See Through You’ (also recorded for his “Serious Contender” album). Shelley’s mellow ‘Darker By The Hour’ is a real departure, and was recorded for the film ‘Last Days Of The Post Office’.

Bridging the gap between this and the next studio album is 2011’s oddly-titled “A Different Compilation”, a high energy “live in the studio” blast through their back catalogue. Whilst you wouldn’t necessarily favour anything here over the originals, it’s a great snapshot of the band’s sound and live set during this period.

The final Buzzcocks album during Pete Shelley’s lifetime was released in 2014, and was the first album of new material to feature new rhythm section Chris Remington and Danny Farrant. A much stronger set than “Flat-Pack Philosophy”, “The Way” begins with the call to arms of Shelley’s ‘Keep On Believing’. With the songwriting evenly split, Diggle’s standouts are ‘In The Back’ and the fierce ‘People Are Strange Machines’. Four of the seven bonuses were originally exclusive to pledgers in the 2014 Pledgemusic campaign.

Each CD is housed in a card sleeve, and these are contained within a thick card case – which itself slots into a sturdy outer box. The 60 page booklet includes detailed notes by Pat Gilbert, incorporating a new interview with Steve Diggle, as well as numerous photos from the period.

Diggle will continue to fly the Buzzcocks flag and keep their music and name alive. In the meantime, “Sell You Everything” is a superb collection of their output from 1991 to 2014. There are enough unreleased tracks to keep the fans happy, and plenty for any non-completists to discover. My advice would be to start with “Trade Test Transmissions” and “Modern”, and then delve into the rest! ****

Review by Jim Henderson





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