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EP review: Buzzcocks – “Spiral Scratch”


Well, that I’m reviewing an EP today doesn’t mean that I’ve run out of albums to talk about – it’s just that I’m posting this as a quick review because I’ll be doing a bigger one on The Death of CDs today, and as it will concern a book, I’ll have to be more careful in writing it than usual – but that’s beside the point. Still, “Spiral Scratch” by Buzzcocks is one of the best EPs of all time (if not THE best) and deserves a separate review all to its own.

“Spiral Scratch” was recorded while Buzzcocks’ original singer, Howard Devoto, was still in the band. After he left, the guitarist Pete Shelley took over the vocals and made Buzzcocks the blueprint for all pop punk on the airwaves today – culminating with, similarly, one of the best compilations ever released, “Singles Going Steady”. But while Devoto was in the band, Buzzcocks were straightforward, unabashedly aggressive punkers, and this EP chronicles this period wonderfully. With 4 tracks just under 10 minutes, “Spiral Scratch” gets its point across without becoming boring at any given moment.

The universally recognized best song off the album is “Boredom”, that contains a parody of the guitar solos that were prevalent in the progressive rock of the day – just two notes repeated over 60 times. Also present are the lyrics satirizing the “very humdrum” punk scene – no small wonder that after leaving Buzzcocks, Devoto outright stated that punk became restrictive and stereotyped and formed one of the first post-punk bands, Magazine.

But that was after Devoto left. The other tracks on the EP, however, not only manage to live up to the level of “Boredom”, but sometimes even outshine it – “Breakdown”, for example, was an explosive opener unlike any other, and “Time’s Up” has a hilarious call-and-response section between Devoto and Shelley (“seen the back of forty king size cigarattes… STOOD UP!.. if you’d just come along I’d have no regrets… GIVE UP!” and so forth.) “Friends of Mine” also has some plain hilarious lyrics. (Random lyric of choice: “Norman’s sobbing cos his make-up’s running away with itself, he’s heading for an early grave, scared to death about the state of his health”.)

And, of course, I’ll have to mention the production and the players. The production was handled by one Martin Hannett (then known just as Martin Zero), who went on to become the producer for Joy Division and The Durutti Column – and, in fact, was one of the main sound architects for Ian Curtis and company. As Devoto recalled, “it took three hours, with another two for mixing”, so the speed of the recording added to the urgence of the sound. The drummer John Maher is simply going wild at his drumkit and shows some impressive skills – the fact that was pointed out by many reviewers.

To summarize: “Spiral Scratch”, in terms of importance, is far more important than Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK”. While Londoners proved that anyone can be in a band, Buzzcocks, the Mancunians, proved that anyone can make a record and sell it – defictionalizing the record making in the process.

Highlights: I’d list all four, but… “Breakdown”, “Boredom”

Lowlights: none.

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