Monday, 1 August 2011
The more I hear the words post-punk used to describe bands and records, the more unsure I become of what the hell it actually means. I know that it technically means “after the punk movement” but that seems really bloody vague even for a musical genre. I've heard it used to describe hardcore punk, electro-rock, grunge and even acts that I'm fairly sure are first wave punk bands. I think to me it best describes bands like Mission Of Burma who took the punk attitude and attack on board but explored different avenues with it in the early 80's. It would be easy for me to lump Shoes into the vast melting pot of genres that seems to compile the collective idea of post-punk, based on some of the strong influences I can hear in their music and the time during which they were at their most prolific. But I won't. Especially since their first album came out in 1975.
Their sixth album Silhouette is one of the more underrated records in their catalogue which may have something to do with the fact that it never got a release in the USA despite the band being based in the somewhat hopefully named, Zion, Illinois. They were dropped by Elektra in 1982 and retreated into their home studio, without one of their original members, to work on this album which was released on Demon Records in Europe in 1984. It's a somewhat mixed bag. Mainly keyboard driven but with a strong hint of jangle-pop guitars and at times (especially on Twist And Bend It) lo-fi, before that was even a genre.
Get My Message, the albums opener is a track that sounds undeniably eighties, with all the hallmarks of a catchy Pop/Rock song from the early part of that decade. The intro could easily be a song by Rick Springfield or Dave Edmunds with its pumping guitar and bass lines. Then the jangly lead guitar line comes in but is soon replaced with another, more distorted lead line. All in all I think there are 3 different riffs in the intro before the vocal come in. Later on in the song the typical pop/rock sound starts to slip away with the introduction of reversed vocals in the bridge section, hinting at the synthesised sound that seems to dominate this album.
Just in-case you didn’t get the hint though, the next track hits you full force with the sound of synth pop. Will You Spin For Me, has an almost Devo-esque intro to it. A simple riff played on synth over a sparse drum beat that occasionally explodes in a reverberant hand clap and a staccato guitar riff inserted every few bars. However the vocals soon make Devo comparisons irrelevant as the vocal line is somewhat smoother and far more pop orientated than Mark Mothersbaugh's trade mark squawk. This is quite obviously meant to be a fairly mainstream sounding pop song but it's relatively left-field influences give it a strange edge that I personally think does the track a world of good!
Some of the other tracks don’t fair so well though. When Push Comes To Shove for example is a rather weak song that to me sounds like an instantly forgettable pop song that suffers greatly from being placed immediately after the very strong tracks at the start of the album.
Side two kicks off with the bizarrely aggressive sounding I Wanna Give It To You. The vocals are fast, almost undecipherable and slightly distorted and delivered with a growl that, after listening to the relatively pop sounding first side of the record, is pretty surprising. The song itself is rather un-astounding but the production is so strange in comparaison to the rest of the record that it makes for a rather interesting listen.
The Jangle Pop influences make a welcome return on Turnaround with a 12 string guitar taking over from the synths to drive the song with layered harmonies over the top. Running Wild carries this on with very pleasant results but the synth is already starting to creep back in underneath the ringing 12 string. By the next track the keyboards are back in full force. Personally I think that Oh Angeline would have been better as a guitar driven song as the dated synth sounds now make it sound cheap and somewhat throwaway. Although the song is cheery and catchy the production lets it down and leaves it somewhat lacking.
If I had to define this record as one genre I'd call it Power Pop. A very late 70's, early 80's genre that relied on both 12 string jangle and synth power, basically used to describe the more underground and interesting elements of Pop-Rock. Though there is a lot more going on here than that. There are prevalent Devo influences on some of these tracks (I'm fairly sure that the drum track from Bound To Fade is almost identical to Whip It) that are mixed in with a strong pop sensibility. That sensibility is the one thing that connects all these songs on an album that swings quite quickly from guitar driven rock to synth pop to almost lo-fi pop. The sound changes from song to song but it seems to be an album without any defined roles as all the band members are credited with having played a little bit of everything. Each one takes it in turn to play bass, guitar, drums and keys. An interesting approach that wields some really nice results but possibly not the most coherent record I’ve ever heard, which is by no means a bad thing!