”Something Better Change” was released in July of 1977 as the first single from The Stranglers upcoming second album No More Heroes which would appear in mid September. Along with the albums title track, ”Something Better Change” would signal a move in a more overtly pop direction that was only hinted at on the group’s first album and would manage to peak at #9 on the U.K. singles chart. This is not to say that The Stranglers abandon their reputation as caustic agitators as No More Heroes was littered with politically contentious tracks such as ”I Feel Like A Wog”, ”Bring On The Nubiles” and ”Bitching”, but the song’s infectious guitar riff and winning melody suggests a tenuous party rock atmosphere. It’s left to singer J.J. Burnel’s particularly gruff vocal performance to keep thing in the punk zone as he alternates between a gnarly throated delivery and a melodic toned timbre. Pumping organ and a buoyant mid-tempo rhythmic romp keep the energy high as he confronts the status quo with a tirade against stifling apathy, flaunting the punk new order with the taunting second verse, “Don’t you like the way I dance? / Does it bug you? / Don’t you like the cut of my clothes? / Don’t you like the way I seem to enjoy it? / Stick my finger right up your nose!” The bridge becomes a jubilant anthem where Burnel voices a punk battle cry to a flurry of organ runs and a growling bass line, “Something’s happening and it’s happening right now / You’re too blind to see it / Something’s happening and it’s happening right now / Ain’t got time to wait”. The chorus is a simple statement, Burnel demanding “Something better change!” with support from the boys in the band who join in for a group shout. Ironically, the arrangement also shows signs of classic rock moves, including a stinging guitar solo and an old school build up of the chorus late in the track.
from No More Heroes (A&M 4659), available on CD (A&M)
This song was to be a key moment in the reformation of Echo & the Bunnymen. Ian McCulloch originally wrote "Just a Touch Away" back in the mid-Nineties, in the midst of the Electrafixion era, but felt it inappropriate for that band. Over time, the singer found himself shelving more and more songs, as it became ever more evident that Electrafixion's days were numbered. Eventually McCulloch played a demo of the song for Will Sergeant, who was decidedly impressed; soon after, the pair turned out the lights on Elektrafixion, re-united with Les Pattison, reformed Echo & the Bunnymen, and began work on their new album, 1997's Evergreen. "Just a Touch Away" would take pride of place within, its evocative atmospheres and haunting lyrics creating an eloquent showcase of the band's new styles and sounds. Today, the song is Sergeant's favorite track from the set, proving McCulloch was right to have so much faith in it all along.
On ”The Cutter” fellow Liverpool natives, Echo and The Bunnymen successfully wed the Eastern influenced psychedelic sounds made famous by hometown heroes, The Beatles. Crafting Eastern influences into a new post-punk hybrid that was sweeping England in the Early 80’s. It was songs like ”The Cutter” that would help define the newly coined Neo-psychedelic sub-genre, practiced by such group’s of the period as The Chameleons U.K., Psychedelic Furs and Simple Minds amongst others. The track opens with a keyboard approximation of Indian strings, whirring briefly before the band kicks into a percolating groove of popping bass, driving straight drums and chinking guitar accents. Ian McCulloch adds another layer of ’60 nostalgia, employing his expressive, slack-jawed vocal delivery that conjures aural images of the late Jim Morrison as he unfurls lines that drip with apprehension “Who’s on the seventh floor? / Brewing alternatives / What’s in the bottom drawer? / Waiting for things to give”. The Eastern strings re-enter at strategic points, filling in space between verses and McCulloch’s esoteric pleas to “spare us the cutter!”, which sounds like a good idea in any case. The arrangement also veers into epic territory quite unexpectedly in the second half, signaled by a sweeping wave of keyboard and McCulloch’s more subdued delivery as poses a string of rhetorically poignant questions, “Am I the happy loss? / Will I still recoil? / When the skin is lost / Am I the worthy cross? / Will I still be soiled? / When the dirt is off” -as the music swell behind him. Like any good single, the track never looses steam, cruising through each section with power and grace. A nod is in order for Ian Broudie, who’s smooth production helped The Cutter become Echo and The Bunnymen’s first top ten single in Britain and a linchpin track for the Neo-psychedelic movement.
That the Church's initial breakthrough song would yet become a millstone around its neck might not have been clear at the time, but one understands pretty easily why the band was anxious to escape its shadow after subsequent efforts clearly showed the tune as the building block it was. But "The Unguarded Moment" isn't a disaster at all - indeed, for a young band to come up with such a great effort early on and get some airplay and attention for it was as clear a sign as any that something really special could yet result. Marty Willson-Piper's flat out lovely introductory guitar and the sinewy blend of his and Peter Koppes' instrument on the main melody sets the tone, while the stripped down verses and quiet rhythm changes throughout give a great taste of the band's incipient ambitions and tweaking of an established formula. Steve Kilbey's quietly rueful but still clear and strong lead vocal adds a nice air of calm melancholia, while coming up with some fun lyrical images here and there ("Tell those friends with cameras for eyes…").
from Of Skins And Heart (Arista ARCD-8563), available on CD
Teardrop Explodes’ second single, "Bouncing Babies", was released in July 1979, following the departure of organist Paul Simpson and the arrival of his replacement Gerald Quinn. With those changes, the group's sound, too, would alter dramatically, as Quinn took the band into the crypt-like depths of proto-Goth; in true Phantom of the Opera style, his organ haunts the grooves, while Gary Dwyer pounds his drums like a man who’s just discovered he's been buried alive, and Michael Finkler reenacts the Texas Chainsaw Massacre with his buzzsaw guitar.
Ecstatic reviews greeted the single, but its lifespan was short – before long, ”Bouncing Babies” was so hard to find that the Freshies came close to scoring a hit simply by bemoaning that difficulty – their &"I Can't Get (Bouncing Babies by the Teardrop xplodes)" itself ranks alongside its namesake among the most memorable of the age.
from Kilimanjaro (Fontana 836897), available on CD