Sounds - September 18th 1982

 

Digital Graffiti

FINGERS Henry & Jake: a combination of Vice Squad, Costello and the Professionals (sort of) Andy Phillips

Stiff Little Fingers

"Now Then"

(Chrysalis pre-release) ****1/2

 

Stiff Little Fingers, over the past four years have produced three studio L.P.'s, each one pretty decent and with a fair amount of outstanding tracks on each to make the record worth buying.

Overall, a great band that I've come not to expect great things from.

And here's the surprise, "Now Then", SLF's fourth studio outing (and first with new drummer Dolphin Taylor) is a great record, their first great record.

And if it doesn't have the classic heights of "Inflammable Material" it does have a consistent, uniformly strong feel that's been missing from all of SLF's prior L.P. work.

And SLF have done it without sacrificing or altering their identity. They've merely gone about underlining and strengthening their inherent good points; mainly that, what you had in SLF was an amazingly strong and ingenious pop band that not only had something to say but could say it with the power that only a one time punk band could have.

If you accept SLF's early punk anthems (and probably their best known work, too) for what it is - the gutsy raunch of an evolving and unpretentious hard pop band - "Now Then" finds SLF perfecting what they do best: The LP is absolutely chock full of sweet-yet-direct melodies, meaty accomplished guitars, driving (but never crass) rhythms and above all, honest lyricism concerning honest things.

In a nutshell, SLF's best genre is non-trivial powerpop. Dating back to "Straw Dogs" or "Bloody Sunday" or "Crap On The Radio", SLF have always delivered a hard, finely honed sweet edged punch and it took 'em until 1982 and "Now Then" to produce a complete and finished LP that (without the distraction of pseudo- reggae or apologetic punk) displayed what Stiff Little Fingers could do best.

This is what Stiff Little Fingers promised us all along. Brains, skill, subtlety, balls and talent; no Undertones wimp-out or Ruts DC space-out or Members boogie down, this is pure post punk. The volume and energy of "Now Then" can satisfy the Vice Squad (or, for that matter, Girlschool) fan as easily as the melodic lyricism can satisfy the "Imperial Bedroom" listener.

Burns/Fingers/Ogilvie are great singer/songwriters, and SLF as a whole have the clear churning power of a fine punk band; it all comes together extremely well on "Now Then".

Like their last outing, '81's "Go For It", "Now Then" begins very hard. The clicking chords of "Falling Down" lead into a Big Sound Attack that leads into an even bigger chorus and hook. But instead of trailing off there, "Now Then" keeps right on soaring and bashing.

"Won't Be Told" is another smashing hard pop song, and the whole side follows in the same style of high standards, with one space to breathe - "The Price of Admission" is SLF's first full and honest ballad, and not only does it connect, but its sad, lilting melody results in one of the LP's more memorable moments.

Side Two opens with the single "Bits of Kids" - it sounds better as an album track than it did as a single - leading into Dolphin Taylor's "Welcome To The Whole Week". He's got a nice voice, this Dolphin and in addition to his lead vocal contribution here, his layered on -target Beatlesque backing vocals lend greatly to the rich, full and complete feel of the whole LP.

Henry Cluney gets his turn. "Big City Night" is a sad melodrama with a cinematic feel to it, Henry's thick and heavily accented voice telling a tale of big city apathy and danger which is almost the same subject matter of "Go For It"s "Piccadilly Circus".

Next "Talkback" the punching, exuberant horn accented single of a while back that was one SLF's finest (if least appreciated) moments, is here in a lightly altered form and it's a bit more laid back, fits in better with the rest of the LP and doesn't quite lean at you the way the 45 version did. "Is That What You Fought The War For?" closes the record on as high a note as it started, another ace thinking hard pop song - in much the same tone as "Tin Soldiers".

And in "Is That What You Fought The War For?" we have the LP's message summed up. Most of Now Then deals with a generation and communication gap of one sort or another, changing times and changing ideals, kids shouting at their parents and vice versa. Though it's not about war or poverty or vegetarianism, lyrically "Now Then" is still making a strong, punky statement because it is concerned!

The bottom line is melody and messages; rarely has the combination worked so well together, at least within the context of a post-punk band. The production is by far the best SLF have ever had, dense and immediate, and the addition of Dolphin makes all the difference in the world.

With "Now Then", Stiff Little Fingers have not only totally justified their own relevance, but they've hammered out a striking, highly original pop-via-punk- via-hard rock sound that younger bands like The Adicts have only begun to hint at. It's sort of The Business with subtlety replacing the yobbiness, The Professionals with spot on lyricism and bouncy melody replacing the heavy stomp, the newer Undertones with the balls they so sadly lack.

SLF have now got there own space - no longer are they just an ex punk band or a great live band who can turn out the occasional snappy tunes.

"Now Then" sees Stiff Little Fingers as a triumphant, fully realised post-punk hard pop band smart and with suss.

 

Tim Sommer

 

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