Thursday, April 23, 2009

13 Greatest Albums: The Sex Pistols - 'Never Mind The Bollocks'

Ever since I can remember I've been angry. It has taken me 40 years to realize that this is not anything brought on by external forces. It is primal. It is soulful. Denying that anger is a baseline for me would be like arguing that my teeth were artificially implanted in my head.

I don't know of any other album that more perfectly captures the sense of what a fit of anger feels like.

The Sex Pistols 'Never Mind The Bollocks' album is a work of art so perfectly realized that you can almost be fooled into thinking that it is artless, that it is the pure form of what it expresses. In other words, it so perfectly embodies rage that one could mistakenly label it as merely an after-effect of rage, instead of a masterful evocation of it.

The music industry was so threatened by these guys that they thought they had no choice but to deride this as mere juvenile ranting, the bark and howl of an underclass that is not worth a nickel. They didn't mind making money off of it but they sure as shit weren't going to hold it up and say, "This is a flawless work." Which it is.

In the 32 years since it was released (!?$#?), music has exploded. Rage has become an economic juggernaut. Volume has increased, censorship both implied and explicit has ebbed, and no one is shocked when they encounter uncomfortable topics presented with all the unpleasant details right out front.

But when The Sex Pistols hit the scene, this was far from the case. They were unseemly. They were unruly. They had unabashed scorn for anything that smacked of the establishment. They hated hippies as much as businessmen. Those baby boomers who thought their softly strummed odes to fucking while stoned were going to change the world were the biggest resisters to the noise and clamor of these hooligans.

Lost in all of that is a gem of a record. Sid Vicious killed more than a couple of junkies that night in the Chelsea Hotel. He also killed any real chance that The Sex Pistols had to be viewed as anything other than an aberration, instead of a meteor.

Getting back to the changes in the record industry, what strikes me is that, as comfortable as everyone has gotten with rote expressions of anger and disappointment (nu metal, grunge, rap/rock, gangsta rap, emo-core, etc.), 'Bollocks' puts it all to shame. Even me with my affinity for anger, for loud uncompromising music, even I find myself wanting to tell Johnny Rotten to shut the hell up, to behave, to act like a gentleman. He is relentless in his vocal attack, seeming to rip convention to shreds with every line.

And this clarity extends right into the production of the album itself. This was no mere angry spurt. The sound of that album is like a chainsaw with a grudge. It is as clear as a bell which gives the emotional content even more weight because they aren't willing to let you escape one second of it via a muddy mix, a muffled drum beat, a garbled lyric. Each musical moment is like a shining dagger headed right for your chest.

Thrilling challenging exasperating alienating incriminating and exterminating. The Sex Pistols killed the 1960's and it was about the fuck time.

As I mentioned at the top, I am almost always angry on a cellular level. Somehow if you were able to test my DNA for rage you'd get an off the charts reading. If you could trace anger itself as an evolutionary force you would slide into the DNA and travel back in time through each scream, each punch, each threat, each explosion. And lo and behold, at the beginning of it all, at the moment that God created anger, you would hear his booming voice in the halls of heaven. He would warn you about the evils of this emotion, how it will warp you and rob you of human connection.

And The Sex Pistols would burst in and say, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."


Kim C said...

Hey you -- I love these blog entries but this one struck a chord. I still love the Sex Pistols -- I love the change they wrote on everything.

Thanks for your well wishes regarding Jenica (we've been down this road before... I was just hoping we could somehow put it off forever. No such luck). And thanks for turning me on to keeping a blog. I'm keeping it strictly about the kids for now, but I can see where this medium could be fun to explore writing in other ways. Your sister Sheila's blog is very neat indeed.

Oh, and my "angry self" didn't emerge until after the kids arrived (and learned how to talk -- I never realized I could feel such rage sometimes). I blame it on being Irish.

Brendan O'Malley said...

So glad you're enjoying the new medium. And, yeah, the Irish gene has an angry strand in it, no doubt.

And I think it's a shame that these guys don't get more technical props. The thing is perfect.

Be well!