So, are those guys still a band? Hard to believe, but the Mach II iteration of the Buzzcocks has been functioning for around 25 years – like six times longer than the original lineup did. And yes, they keep releasing albums every now and again.
Still, the band is either burdened or blessed with the onus of the past. The original gangsta Buzzcocks released three excellent albums and the iconic, unimpeachable Singles Going Steady collection before their first breakup. Maybe the guys amassed enough outstanding bills to justify reformation in 1989.
These days, the Buzzcocks (and Stiff Little Fingers, I guess) are the proverbial last men standing from the fabled class of ’77 UK punks. Occasionally they make new records that nobody except for the superfans really want to hear.
I am one of the aforementioned superfans. The Buzzcocks rank among the five or six fave bands of my very life. This is not to say that the Buzzcocks are among the very best bands of rock ’n’ roll history; but to say that I like them the best – probably for reasons that have as much or more to do with what I perceive the band members to be like. In other words, I like the idea of the Buzzcocks, so I am a superfan.
What it all boils down to is that I just love Buzzcocks guitarist (and occasional vocalist) Steve Diggle. “Diggle.” Say it yourself. Isn’t that satisfying? And in the live setting, Steve Diggle is the fucking man. His joyous energy powers every Buzzcocks show.
I understand how things work. Rock ’n’ roll (and especially punk) is by and for the young. You can’t realistically expect a 40-year-old band’s music to be that great. And as a superfan, all I ask of the Buzzcocks is that their new albums have a couple or three tracks that hint at the vivacity of olde. I know I won’t be getting Rocket to Russia, so I’m just hoping for Animal Boy or even Brain Drain. Get me? Sadly, the Buzzcocks’ newly minted The Way represents the nadir of the band’s development. At best, maybe two of the album’s ten tracks have any life whatsoever.
My theory is that departed bassist Tony Barber was the glue that held Buzzcocks Mach II together in the studio. Barber produced 2003’s actually-pretty-damned-good Buzzcocks album – and was credited for all arrangements on 2006’s fair-to-middling Flat Pack Philosophy. I’m guessing that on those albums, Buzzcocks auteurs Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle stumbled in with three chords and some half-baked ideas, and Barber – knowing the band’s formula of yore after cranking out the hits time after time – turned them into Buzzcocks songs, more or less. In other words, Tony Barber was to the latter-day Buzzcocks what Daniel Rey was to the latter-day Ramones.
Apparently, on The Way there was nobody to edit the songs, add occasional flourishes or just say no to stinko ideas. The end result is a shapeless mess that says nothing and goes nowhere. Simply put, this album should have never been made. The music is turgid, slow, directionless and, well, boring. This sounds like a bar band that never practices and plays on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the In Cahoots Grill and Tap House.
To Pete and (especially) Steve: I still love you. You’re welcome back any time you feel like coming around. But just stick to playing the hits, OK?