Sire Records has joined Beserkely and Private Stock in this country and Stiff and Chiswick in England as a leading progenitor of the "new wave" of rock. The occasion is the simultaneous release of four [WORD ILLEGIBLE] albums introducing Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Talking Heads, Head boys, and the Saints.
"New wave" rock has already embraced such stylistically [WORD ILLEGIBLE] music that the term's only signifiance may be economic. The live contexts the small rock club, not unlike the Beatles at Liverpool's Cavern or the Stones at London's Crawdaddy Club in the '60s. The recording context in the small, private label or larger independents, not unlike Sun or Specialty in the '50s.
Sire, a New York label has become one of the more signifiant independents of the '70s, gaining kudos with an excellent and informative series of releases covering the history of the British invasion. When their instincts told them that four goofills called the Ramones had as much musical charm and energy as any rockband, Sire, in the tradition of independents, beat the major labels to the draw and signed the group. It's not surprising that the bands on these new releases, except Australia's Saints, emerged under Sire's nose in a small, Manhattan barralied CBGB's.
On "Taking Heads [WORD ILLEGIBLE] " (Sire 6036), lead singer and song-writer David Byrne has fused his shirping and refined vocal style with a pastiche of logically ordered, melodic elements to create one of the most engaging albums of the year. The band plays with economy, using ticky-tacky rhythms, regae, and disco but slipping them all down to minimal essentials. The sound is clean, neat and almost childish; the band look the same way. Songs like "Don't Worry About the Government" reveal Byrne's lyrics as modernist and wit. The confidence with which they have blended arty sophistication and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] with top accessiblity mark an auspicious debut for Talking Heads.
Richard Hell become a kind of prophet for the New York underground when the lyrics to his single, "Blank Generation," came to serve as a punk anthem - "I was sayin' let me outta here before I was born." His album "Blank Generation" (Sire 603), presents Hell as a significant and challenging artist, although he occasionally seems torn between the guitar artistry of his first band, Television, and the simpler pleasures of the punk sound. At his worst, Hell seems so bent on creating a disconcerting and fragmented musical experience, similar to the experimental jazz he admires, that the listener may feel banished to . . . hell. At his best, Hell's yelping vocals, the unique lyrics, and the band's dual guitar dissonance work together to create some unique pieces of rock art and a chilling format for Hell's message - love and life in the '70s, even rock 'n' roll, may be a celebration in the face of pain rather than a pleasure.
The Dead Boys' "Young, Loud, and Snotty" (Sire 6038) is a minor surprise. When I saw the group in New York, they seemed a furious but shapeless mass of musical nihilism. On album, they prove to be a sometimes-inspired, hard rock 'n' roll band in the punk mold. "Sonic Reducer," the album's best cut, jumps out of the groove with a memorable bass line and stinging and frenzied guitar licks from Cheetah Chrome, who shines throughout. The band's live rendition of the Syndicate of Sounds' 1966 hit, "Little Girl," proves punk has a musical tradition, albeit brief. If there is a problem, it's that Stiv Bator's singing is so tirelessly full of the "nyah, nyah" punk vocal quality that it drags some of the rockin' down to parody.
The Saints' "I'm Stranded" (Sire 6039) is a sheep for the critical slaughter. This is punk music at its worst - one bottom-heavy, repetitious and lifeless throb. Worse, vocalist Chris Bailey may have recorded in New York, but the rest of the band sounds like they were recorded from Australia via satellite. Even Presley's "Kissin Cousins" is dragged through the rhythmic sludge. Sire's enthusiasm for the "new wave" has inevitably thrown some flotsam onto our shores.
The Sire entries show the "new wave" somewhere between high and low tide. For now, only Talking Heads and Richard Hell (in spurts) seem as musically original or memorable as New York's (by now) "old wave" of Patti Smith, the Ramones, and Television.