Before the Pixies sold out arenas eleven years after their initial breakup and Gang of Four decided they wanted to return the gift, a reunited Buzzcocks, featuring original members Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, began touring and recording in 1990. Even though the Buzzcocks’ reunion predated an era in which breakups seem like more of a temporary state than a death sentence, they did not hit their stride until their 2003 self-titled release. Buzzcocks was a darker affair than their previous efforts and a new direction for the pop punk progenitors, which is pretty amazing considering they recorded their first album in the dark ages (or 1978. Whatever).
The darkness that pervaded their previous record is not present on their newest effort Flat-Pack Philosophy. The punks from Manchester are back to creating the pop-punk gems that were their trademark, a genre that would certainly not exist without their incredible influence. But pop-punk is a young man’s game and the members of the Buzzcocks aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore. Shelley’s voice sounds a little older and a little deeper; the nasally obnoxious punk sneer isn’t so nasally anymore. Current bassist Tony Barbara’s production is slick and spacious, unlike the down-and-dirty “Hey what do you think about making a record today?” feel that marked their earlier recordings, making the band seem positively epic compared to their original output. Essentially, they sound the same, but with some cash to throw around.
Despite age, there is still a certain degree of angst that remains prominent throughout Flat-Pack Philosophy. The question remains, though: do you really want to hear a man who should be enjoying his retirement angsting it up? The answer is: well, yeah. Teen angst is all well and good, as bands that would not exist without the Buzzcocks have demonstrated, but just because none of the Buzzcocks have been teenagers for decades doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to gripe about. On the title track, Shelley sings, “Hold on / Why am I here? / What are we living for? / All of my hopes, dreams and desires / Assembly required.” And that, my friends, is angst. But the best part about the Buzzcocks is not their ability to complain about the uncertainty and dread of life as we know it (shit, if that were the case, I would be a rock God instead merely a critic). It’s their ability to write to one hell of a catchy song and Flat-Pack Philosophy does nothing but prove that the Buzzcocks have still got it. “Reconciliation,” for instance, has all the “oohs” and “aah”s that marked songs like “Love you More,” making it oh-so-impossible to contain the need to pogo every time the chorus comes up.
Flat-Pack Philosophy, shouldn’t be a burgeoning ‘Cocks fan’s first foray into the band (that will always and forever remain Singles Going Steady) and probably isn’t an absolutely essential part of their discography (few records this far into an artist’s career are) but that doesn’t mean we can’t bounce along with them as they continue to churn out the punk rock.
The Buzzcocks – Buzzcocks
Undertones – Family Entertainment
The Damned – Grave Disorder