Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dust It Off: Alternative TV - The Image Has Cracked

The Image Has Cracked
Album: The Image Has Cracked
Deptford Fun City, 1978 [Import, 1994 (Bonus Tracks)]

In the history of punk, particularly in the UK, a brief moment occurred between the break-up of the Sex Pistols and the establishment of the major movements of post-punk. In January of 1978, the Sex Pistols parted ways without warning, and by the end of the year, Brian Eno's No New York compilation and John Lydon's Public Image Limited would begin to define the post-punk landscape. The following year saw the LP debuts of definitive British post-punks like Joy Division and the Fall, with goth, new wave and, across the Atlantic, hardcore punk not far behind.

In this period of indecision and potential, Alternative TV released their full-length debut, predicting many of the sounds that would dominate indie music in the 1980's in both the UK and the US. The Image Has Cracked keeps one foot squarely in the classic London punk tradition, but the other explores uncharted territory in every direction.

The album opens with a ten-minute live track featuring frontman Mark Perry attempting to give his audience a chance to speak into the microphone to say anything they may want to talk about. Instead of political or personal insight, all he gets is meaningless jabbering. This track shows Perry, who founded the early zine Sniffin' Glue, acting more as journalist than musician, illustrating the rapid corruption of punk's ideals.

With this almost explanatory track, Perry sets out to find a way to keep punk challenging and relevant, and he certainly succeeds. Drawing from influences as artistic as Frank Zappa (covered on the album) and krautrock (listen to the sonic experimentalism "Red"), The Image is hard to take in as a whole, especially when you get the version with eleven bonus tracks tacked on.

There are some more or less straightforward punk numbers included, such as "Action Time Vision." These fit seemlessly with longer, less conventional tracks. At six minutes, "Nasty Little Lonely" has a winding, dark groove, while the only slightly shorter "Still Life" falls halfway between goth and no wave - all while still remaining accessible.

If you can get the version with the bonus tracks, do so. It may be rather unwieldy, but it's well worth it, since the addition includes some of the most interesting tracks of all. The tight dub of "Life After Life" is among the UK punk scene's best. Pop sensibilities also crop up here with surprising clarity, including the tuneful back-up vocals masking the dark theme of "Life."

Meanwhile, the mellow blues of "Another Coke" is a shockingly intense track whose rambling lyrics fall somewhere between Neutral Milk Hotel's "Song Against Sex" and Minor Threat's similarly titled "Milk and Coke." Deeply personal social commentary, the song laments the quiet violence inherent in society's attitude towards sex and expresses Perry's longing for a more meaningful, pure existence.

As a whole, The Image Has Cracked marks the death of punk's purity and Perry holds little of himself back in mourning its passing. But it also marks the beginning of post-punk and indie music. Bouncing from the no wave-esque avant garde to Joy Division-style gloom to the youthful politicization of proto-hardcore, the album is document of ideas just one step ahead of their time.

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