NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS DELUXE TWO DISC 35th ANNIVERSARY EDITION - Sex Pistols (Universal)
I'm just going to assume you know who the Sex Pistols are. Every recent review I have read assumes the Sex Pistols are something that some skinny jeaned fop just found in a bottom drawer and needs some kind of explanation. Me and you have been around a few blocks more than a few times. We bought these wobbly bits of plastic when they first came out. We drunkenly sang these songs loudly as we stumbled down darkened alleyways performing assorted acts of mindless vandalism. Oh. You didn't? That must have just been me then.
So, I'm not going to review this album per se. I expect you to know every track on it. I expect you to have lived every bump and crackle and snarl. Surely this disc is, already, a tattooed groove on your heart. Surely you understand the cultural significance of the group and this album in particular. If not, kindly get a copy of Julian Temple's Filth and the Fury and come back after you have watched it. As I see it, my job is to help you work out whether this new edition is a worthwhile purchase. I'm not going to fucking hold your hand and walk you through the streets of London.
The Sex Pistols' legacy is a strange thing. No other band has made such a mark on popular culture through the release of just one album. No other band has besmirched their iconic reputation so much through a torrent of self defacing repackaging. By the time Virgin released a compilation entitled "Flogging a Dead Horse", you would have thought the gag had gone far enough. Alas, no. Go on to the Amazon website and just take a look at how much product has materialised out of repackaging. It literally staggers you. If you thought a Stooges obsessive would need a room to store a collection, the Pistols fan would need a warehouse... and it all is just made up of the same fucking songs repeated over and over in slightly different orders.
Is that a reason to walk away from this disc? There is that temptation. A super deluxe box set has just been released containing vinyl single, book, three CDs, DVD, poster and complimentary blow job. (Only available at participating outlets). It also contains previously unreleased studio out-takes including Sid's song (a.k.a "Belsen was a Gas"). At a hundred British sobs plus postage and packaging, the deal seemed a little extreme even for the fan boy here. When it was announced there would be a (mere) deluxe edition containing Bollocks and studio out-takes, I put my money down.
Of course, in typical Pistol tradition, by the time the copy actually shipped, the listed tracks changed so the second disc contained live recordings. If you want your studio version of Belsen, you will still need to fork out the big bucks. My hint is don't bother. The "legendary" studio version sounds like a half learnt first time run through merely taped for future reference. The vocals are particularly low in the mix and decidedly half hearted. Stick with the Wintergarden version from "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle".
So, what does that leave us with? CD one is "Never Mind the Bollocks" digitally remastered by original producer Chris Thomas. It is not, as some have suggested, remixed. It has just been spruced up- a lot. Some people hate this kind of tinkering but, quite often, CDs really need it. I know you vinyl junkies love your bass vanishing into turntable hum and you find all that upper mid compression disconcerting. I respect that. This kind of remastering does, however, bring out the best of the CD medium.
For the first time, you can hear all the components of the Pistolian wall of sound. You can hear the different guitar parts and Johnny Rotten's vocal asides in clarity. And backing vocals! They really were the Monkees of punk. The bottom end is gloriously brutal smack in the face stuff punctuated by the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun snare thumping. It's like when you get a new pair of glasses and suddenly remember that trees are a collection of leaves on branches.
It is not completely successful. Never Mind the Bollocks was composed of a mishmash of recording sessions. Anarchy in the UK is the same recording as was released on EMI records and boasts Glen Matlock's quasi Motown bass lines. Though I personally prefer his playing and the sound of the pre Vicious band, the re-mastering loves the panzer tank rumble of Steve Jones' multi layering. It is hard to imagine a world where Anarchy in the UK sounds like the weakest track but it does. But don't get me wrong. I put this disc on and there's a big old smile plastered across my face. Holiday in the Sun sounds massive beyond imagining. As I first put it on, I said wow. I said Wow out loud.
Disc one is rounded off with single b-sides. For some reason, Anarchy B-side I Wanna Be Me is skipped. In its place is the unreleased A and M God Save the Queen b-side, a Matlock driven version of "No Feelings" boasting wild phased guitars. It's well worth having despite my usual repulsion at having different versions of the same song on one CD. The other b-sides have particularly benefited from the extra time spent in remastering. "Did you No Wrong", "No Fun" and "Satellite" all sound like they belong instead of being mere throw aways.
The live album is pretty much what you would expect. A performance in Stockholm in July of 1977 is described as being a "full soundboard recording". If you think that means it doesn't sound like a cassette player set up at the back of the hall, you will be disappointed. Interestingly, it features the band in good humour. Rather than the media inspired notion of hate and war that has been played up in live US recordings, the band seems to be just having fun. Rotten's banter is good natured. Steve Jones runs through his Johnny Thunder's human highlight reel. He's still playing like Matlock is on bass with a huge amount of open space. Despite what popular opinion sneers, Sid Vicious plays perfect Dee Dee Ramone bass. If I was to keep a tally sheet, I would suggest Jones hits more wrong notes than he does. It barely matters with Paul Cook's rock solid drumming.
The second disc is rounded off with three songs from a concert in Cornwall from September of 1977. The immediate thing you notice is how much more chug Jones has added to his playing in imitation of the album style he had developed. Sound quality is pretty ropey, with Problems fading in rather inappropriately.
Okay. What's the verdict? Disc Two is historically interesting if you are a fan. Disc one contains my preferred version of the Never Mind the Bollocks album. I like it a lot. A real lot. Pair it up with a copy of the "Spunk" bootleg and that's as much as a Pistol's collection you will ever need. I certainly don't feel like I wasted my money. I feel joy as I listen to this disc. I recommend it to you. Next time you want to ask me why I didn't give your band a glowing five bottle review, I tell you to listen to this - Bob Short
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