Boxset Review: U.K. Subs – The Albums 1979-1982

Boxset Review: U.K. Subs - The Albums 1979-1982
Reviewed by Dan Barnes

Cherry Red Records have really pulled out the stops with this revisiting of the first four studio records of Punk Rock Royalty, U.K. Subs. Not only will you find the albums themselves, but you’ll find them adorned with more bonus tracks than you can shake a stick at; and, to add the cherry (no pun intended) on the cake, they’ve only gone and included the band’s first live album too.

Disc One is the genesis of it all, the 1979 debut, Another Kind of Blues, which not only encapsulated the U.K. Subs sound and attitude but laid down a blueprint for the UK82 bands who were inspired to pick up their instruments and make a gloriously horrendous racket. Mixing hardcore punk aesthetics with British Rhythm and Blues scene Charlie had been a mainstay of for some years, the Subs’ debut was a thirty-odd minute manifesto of raucous and unbridled energy.

From the cymbal washes of CID, through the indignancy of life on the road on Live in a Car, the literally explosive Rocker and the saucy ribald of All I Wanna Know, onto the pounding Stranglehold, Another Kind of Blues is seventeen songs of pure Punk and many of the songs here still find their way into the Subs’ sets to this day.

Cherry Red have load Disc One with nine additional tracks, including the single versions of World War, and B1C, alongside the already mentioned CID, Live in a Car and Rockers. Included here are also the two B’ sides from Tomorrow’s Girls, Scum of the Earth, an obnoxious punk rumble, and Telephone Numbers, featuring some scratch guitar and a frenzied vocal from Charlie.

The line up of Charlie on vocals, Nicky Garratt on guitar and rhythm section of Paul Slack and drummer Pete Davies would remain for the next album, Brand New Age, in 1980 and Disc Two of this collection.

The sophomore record builds on the previous album, adding more viscera and vitriol to their sound. The track Brand New Age reflects the passage into the 1980s, while the following Public Servant, and the later, Rat Race, warns the calendar might have changed, but little else had.

Boxset Review: U.K. Subs - The Albums 1979-1982

Fourteen songs in less than thirty minutes means the Subs get right down to business and the result is a sharp example of an uncompromising Punk record of the day. No airs, no graces, just Charlie and co venting their collective spleens on the likes of Organised Crime, with its flashy solo and gang vocals, same goes for Teenage, which finds the band going down something of a Ramones route. Emotional Blackmail is all about that crunchy guitar and it would be remiss to ignore Warhead, it being the band’s signature tune.

More so than Another Kind of Blues, Brand New Age’s track list adds even more to UK Subs’ live sets over the intervening forty-odd years.

Of the ten bonus tracks, only three – Kicks, Warhead and Teenage – are single versions of album tracks. Elsewhere is She’s Not There, a cover of The Zombies’ 1964 tune and featuring bassist Paul on a rare lead vocal; Victim and The Same Thing were also taken from the same sessions, but only released on the She’s Not There EP which preceded Brand New Age. Lou Reed’s I’m Waiting For My Man is covered; The Harper finds Charlie wailing on the harmonica and both Left for Dead and New York State Police see the Subs’ in a less friendly mood.

Disc Three is the band’s first full-length live album, Crash Course, which hit the shelves barely a year after the release of the debut. Recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London, during May 1980, the penultimate show of the Brand New Age tour, after which both Paul and Pete left the band.

As you would imagine, the setlist was an amalgam of the two records, but played with the youthful Punk energy that the band still carry with them to this day.

The departure of the rhythm section meant Charlie and Nicky needed to find a new low end, which they managed by recruiting drummer Steve Roberts and bassist Alvin Gibbs who, for his sins, is still a member of the band to this day. The resulting record, Diminished Responsibility hit the shelves in 1981.

From the outset, this record had a markedly different sound from its two predecessors; Disc Four’s Diminished Responsibly is an angry Punk album, rougher and more abrasive, with Charlie’s voice coming over more Johnny Rotten than before, especially on You Don’t Belong, Fatal and New Order. Alvin Gibbs’ bass is very much to the fore, particularly on the intro to So What (no, not that one), which finds the band adopting a more hardcore sound, through Violent City and a Oi! vibe on Confrontation.

Diminished Responsibility comes back to the tried and trusted U.K. Subs sound on Fight the Machine, Just Another Jungle and Time and Matter, where Nicky breaks out the shred. Too Tired and the single, Party in Paris have a Punk N’ Roll feel, giving this record a more focused aggression.

The only single issued from this album was Party in Paris and the bonus tracks include two alternate versions: the first is the single edit and the second a French language run-through. Released a couple of months after Diminished hit the shelves, the Subs issued the non-album single Keep On Running (Til You Burn), which sounds more New Wave than the in-your-face nature of the full-length.

Charlie’s debut single, Barmy London Army, a song about following Sham 69 on tour, is included and the influence of the Hersham boys is clear. Elsewhere, Fall of Empire and Perfect Girl represent the sound of Diminished Responsibility, Talk is Cheap, Freaked and Jo feel more like old school Subs, while Ice Age, which would feature on the next album, goes in a more Post Punk direction.

Finally, Disc Five is Endangered Species from 1982. Probably best known for Down on the Farm, which Guns N’ Roses covered on their Spaghetti Incident album, this fourth studio record feels like an extension of the previous one, with the opening title track being even more nihilistic, foreseeing the inevitable demise of the Human-race, and even more pertinent now, perhaps, than back when it was written. Countdown is slow and plodding, Ambition features Charlie’s bluesy harmonica, and Lie Down speeds along at a fair old lick.

Plan of Action, I Robot and Fear of Girls keeps the U.K. Subs’ sound, while Sensitive Boys and Flesh Wound feel New Wave and Divided 8 x 5 has a Stranglers energy to it. The bonus track here is I Don’t Need Your Love, originally voiced by Alvin, but now with Charlie’s pipes; though Alvin does contribute lead vocals on album track Living Dead.

To top this off the package comes with a booklet of detailed notes and pictures from the respective eras of the band, making this an essential purchase for anyone missing early U.K. Subs from their music collection. Here you’ll find the four formative and most essential albums from an institution still going strong, though reducing their live commitments.

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