When The Buzzcocks released Another Music In a Different Kitchen in 1978, they contributed a stellar entry into the pantheon of legendary punk rock debuts, not as monumental in reputation as Never Mind The Bollocks or The Clash, but certainly every bit as good. Yet the group was advancing and evolving at a remarkably fast pace, which wasn’t all that uncommon among their contemporaries, or the ones that managed to stay together for a second album, anyhow. But The Buzzcocks recorded a head-spinning amount of material between 1978 and 1979, all of it pretty much incredible, mapping out a course that saw them go from fiery punk rockers to a musically accomplished and agitated post-punk group with a keen sense of melody.
Love Bites, originally released six months after the group’s debut, still retains much of the speed and intensity of their debut, not to mention their melodic sensibility. But it’s much less of a punk rock record than it is a stellar rock record with punk tendencies. “Time’s Up,” the leadoff track, makes it pretty clear from the get-go that the band was taking a slightly different approach, its punchy, slowly charging scratch building up steadily, rather than exploding out of the gates like much of the band’s other tracks up to that point. From one standout to another, next in line is “Ever Fallen In Love,” easily in the band’s all-time top five tracks and simply one of the greatest punk rock singles in history. From that point on, the group maintains a spunky punk rock energy, but their melodies are more varied, and their arrangements more diverse. “Operator’s Manual” finds the group spinning out a waltz, “Just Lust” is an accelerated take on jangly power-pop, “Sixteen Again” is an infectious new waver with a great lead riff, and “Walking Distance” is a glorious jolt of harmonized guitar bliss.
Love Bites also reveals the first semi-acoustic track from the band, the Steve Diggle-sung “Love Is Lies.” In addition, the final trio of songs makes up a stunning, progressive block of music from the band, from the jagged riffage of “Nothing Left,” to the dense burn of “E.S.P.” and the lengthy closing instrumental “Late For the Train.” Much like Mute’s deluxe reissue of Another Music In a Different Kitchen, Love Bites comes packaged with bonus singles and a Peel Session, and a second disc of demos and live tracks. The associated singles, all four of which appear on Singles Going Steady, are, of course, great additions. In particular, “Lipstick” is a cheeky highlight, its chorus reincorporating the riff from Magazine’s “Shot by Both Sides.” These tracks are followed by three separate Peel Sessions, with some particularly stellar versions of “Promises” and “E.S.P.” among them.
The demos, the vast majority of them unreleased, contain some interesting inclusions, from a simpler take on “Love Is Lies,” to a slightly slowed-down version of “Ever Fallen In Love,” to the scratchy “Raison d’Etre” and drunken piano singalong pisstake “Mother of Turds.” That last one alone is remarkably silly, but an amusing artifact nonetheless. And closing out the second disc is a live set from the Lesser Free Trade Hall, heavily comprising singles rather than album cuts, though “Nothing Left” and a handful of cuts from the first album are sandwiched in between.
Rarely praised as highly as its predecessor or its follow-up, A Different Kind of Tension, Love Bites is something of the middle child in The Buzzcocks’ early output. And yet, its material is just as strong as its companion albums, and has aged incredibly well. Still the work of the same band who earlier launched through blistering singles like “Orgasm Addict” and “What Do I Get?”, Love Bites is the sound of a young band maturing rather quickly, but refusing to grow boring.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.