Punk, in essence, is a singles-oriented genre. Though it may be abrasive and anti-establishement, for the most part, it’s catchy and fun to listen to. Things certainly have changed a lot since The Ramones shouted their first “hey ho let’s go!” And yet, punk rock songs essentially use the same skeleton as they did nearly 30 years ago. From Singles Going Steady to the recent Dischord Records box set, punk singles collections stand as essential parts of a discography, where fleshed-out albums often don’t make as strong or long-lasting a statement. Still, there are those who never lent themselves well to a singles format. Crass immediately comes to mind. And, of course, like-minded bands like Conflict, Disorder and Flux of Pink Indians. To me, The Ex has always fallen into this category, as they’re one of the few punk bands that leans toward the “prog” side. And I mean that in the best way, mind you.
So what does The Ex go and do? They release an album’s worth of their early seven-inch singles! Well, shucks! I suppose I was wrong. Singles. Period. is a surprisingly enjoyable and listener-friendly collection. It is not, however, all that radio-friendly. Those expecting something along the lines of Rancid or Green Day should turn back around from where they came. The Ex, here, are no less angry Dutch leftists than on any of their albums. They just happened to have written some neat little three chord tunes in the process.
Singles. Period is a fascinating historical document for those looking to expand beyond The Clash and The Pistols. This would require expansion toward the Netherlands, of course, where The Ex call home. On this collection, many of their songs sound similar to the early releases by The Mekons, whose “Keep on Hoppin'” has actually been covered by The Ex and included on this compilation.
Beginning with the early single All Corpses Smell the Same, we are given four brief but hyper-charged songs in the form of the sloppy “Human Car,” the Dutch-sung “Rock `n’ Roll-Stoel,” the slightly funky “Cells” and the chaotic “Apathy Disease.” Then comes the ultimate Europunk anthem, “Stupid Americans,” which contains the lyrics “Stupid Americans/really make me sick.”
The collection then progresses into the band’s more experimental and political work like “Weapons for El Salvador,” an abrasive, though somewhat danceable anthem that offers the suggestion that “Guerilla war is not for fun/the only way to get things done.” And then there is the humorous “Gonna Rob the Spermbank,” though part of me still wonders if The Ex even has a sense of humor. They certainly have plenty to write about and they do it with no shortage of innovative arrangements and chaotic melodies. The guitars scratch, the drums rattle like a steam train, and the vocals are always vicious and vitriolic. And quite frankly, it’s all pretty damn good. Apparently, The Ex is a singles band, even if they don’t care much for convention.
Mekons – Heaven and Hell
Einsturzende Neubauten – Strategies Against Architecture
The Fall – Early Years: 77-79
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.