Taken from "Sounds"

 

Stiff Little Fingers

'All The Best'

(Chrysalis CTY 1414)

 

A historical testament that focuses retrospective analysis on SLF's worth and importance, this complete collection of singles (all the B-Sides too) dismisses the cosmetic glory of an edited highlights 'Greatest Hits' compilation, causing 'All The Best' to feature quite a lot of the worst as well!

Needless to say it kicks off with some of the most passionately inspired protest music ever committed to vinyl - the horrendously furious rage of "Suspect Device"; "Wasted Life", "Alternative Ulster" and "Gotta Getaway" burst out with a snarling aggression that was both shaped by, and helped shape, the punk ethics and style of '77 and '78.

These tracks are seminal stuff; irresistible slices of screaming bloody outrage, teeming with urban and teenage frustration threatening to boil over. There was no way such uncontrollable energy and revolt could last without mutating.

The emphasis on lyrics about Belfast shifted to a more universal dissatisfaction with feeling hemmed in and being misunderstood, as the double a-side of "Nobody's Hero" and 'Tin Soldier' forcefully proved.

The band made a stab at chart success with rough-edged dynamism, and the failure is as much a mystery to me now as when I watched Jake Burns night after night crashing through vital anthems, like, "Johnny Was" "Tin Soldiers" and "Wasted Life". In some ways, they were the happiest times I spent with a sense of commitment and determination matched only by the great fun I had.

Mostly this album is a remarkable reminder for me of those days; the sort of record which rams home just how many great tracks a band like Stiff Little Fingers amass over a period of four or five years.

The problems soon creeps up on you though. Firstly this is by no means an essential anthology, omitting such classic cuts as "Johnny Was", "Fly The Flag" and "Hits and Misses", while a series ot highly forgettable 'joke' b-sides (a live version of 'White Christmas' ferchrissakes) take up the space. And anyway - who the hell needs a complete collection of singles who won't already have bought them? Most of the music here has a paradoxically timeless quality while burning, burning on a very short fuse.

The political motivation, the degree of honesty and the gruff attack of Fingers' style established them as youth spokesmen only a rung below the mighty Clash while making the Upstarts and Sham 69 seem like a Women's Institute whistdrive!

Unfortunately; their drive and ideals weren't always matched by an attention to musical integrity, I mean, "White Christmas" indeed! This double album finally falls short as an over-ambtious grasp at setting the SLF work into context. But that will never render much of the music any less than magnificent!

 

JOHNNY WALLER.

 

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