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5 September 2011

Crass - 'Stations of the Crass' (Crass)

The second record is an album-and-a-half (three sides at 45 rpm, the last a live half-album at 33) and maybe the defining statement from this band - before they got committed to conceptualism, which is from what I remember everything that follows. (Penis Envy, Christ the Album, Yes Sir I Will ... and while conceptualism in punk is certainly welcome, sometimes you just want to hear a band doing what they do well. Of course, I am a Crass dilettant, and quite willing to admit that I don't really understand the full vision and philosophy here. I use the term philosophy without any irony, because my understanding of Crass is that they were first and foremost a way of life, and the records were an effect of this. Or were they a symptom? And what of the music anyway, which is the primary focus of Dislocated Underbite.... ? To be honest, it's something I've rarely considered before - my tendency is to read Crass as if it was a radical art collective, which it was. But they were also a band. At least here and in Feeding of the 5000, it's punk as typically manifested - fast and aggressive, surely a reflection of the frustrations and the desire to irritate and confront general society. This is 1979, when this sound carried some weight - I firmly believe that Crass's later experimentalism came from the desire to stretch out and continue their activist tendencies through music. And likewise, I see later groups such as Chumbawumba (at least their early records) to be true followers of Crasstactics (or at least moreso most other shitty crust bands I've seen in my life). The experimentalism is here though - Eve Libertine speaks out similar to the deleted 'Asylum' on the first record, but in 'DemoNcrats' the music gets quite ethereal, creating a really provocative sound piece. It's a product of its time, but it's also not. 'Walls' gets into proto-new wave territory, with it's dissection of feminine space rather brilliantly expressed. But most of Stations of the Crass is still punk fucking rock. The songs are mostly fast, but occasionally drop down a bit to breathe. One tendency that's developed since Feeding is the embracing of piercing, shredding guitar noise at times - noise annoys, as the Buzzcocks taught us, but Crass actually use it that way. The recording is better on this sophmore effort, and the bass in particular really shouts out. 'White Punks on Hope' moves along with a creepingly familiar chord progression, driven by Pete Wright's bass. There are glimpses of their contemporaries - Black Flag at times, though I dunno how much influence was there (in either direction); 'Upright Citizens' though, could be an early Mekons single. You can actually sing along at times, but not too often. The lyrics are all printed on the foldout, and holy shit are there lots of them and it's really hard to read because of the (what else?) typewriter approach. Penny Rimbaud's artwork is stunning though, and I can only imagine what a loss this would be on a CD. Reviewing Crass now is a strange one - their anarchist ideology isn't so important to me (not that I am dismissive), but their place within the whole continuum of underground music as well as art/activism is pretty much untouchable. It's kinda strange to me to think about how much of a cornerstone these images, sounds and concepts are for so many people - and how unknown and irrelevant they are for so many others.

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