PEACE, LOVE AND UNDER SURVEILLANCE - Thought Criminals (Doublethink)
Recordings by reformed bands are OK by me - at least if done with taste and respect for the legacy (if there is one). They show a band's trying and not just raking over the coals. Of course, it's gratifying if the output is good - although if you corral expectations, you can mitigate against disappointment (the new New York Dolls anyone?) Count this crumb from the table of the back-in-the-saddle Thought Criminals as one of the best offerings in recent years by a reincarnated act.
The Thoughties were always different from the rest. They didn't graduate from the Detroit school, nor did they adopt safety pin style over substance as some of their UK-influenced contemporaries. Some common punk themes prevailed but there was a lyrical, thought-provoking intelligence to their music.
"Peace, Love And Under Surveillance" is a limited-run EP, in digital or vinyl format and only available - gratis - to punters at the Thoughties' Sydney (Annandale - February 2) and Melbourne (The Tote - February 3) 2007 shows. After that, look to eBay...
Recorded over three days with the best-known line-up intact, it's a five-track pack of sharply incisive social and political observations. Musically, it doesn't have the same rusty-knife edge of the band's earliest songs, but sits effortlessly next to their latter-day, keyboard-infused work. Punks grow up.
Bruce Warner's edgy vocal sounds commanding on the opening "40 Days". "Takeover Target" is the sort of global politik commentary you might expect, and it glows like hot coals. "DNA" is a drag-'em-down, singalong. "Takeover Target" borrows its melody from the Banana Splits but it's a fair bet those big hairy fuckers never had as tight a grip on world affairs as the Thoughties.
Did someone say this was a crumb from the table? This is much more substantial. It's music for the times and let's hope "Peace Love and Under Surveillance" isn't the last we hear of the revived - and if this music reverberates as far as the corridors of power, reviled - Thought Criminals. - The Barman
CHRONO-LOGICAL - The Thought Criminals (Doublethink/Ascension)
It's be less than honest to say that Sydney's determinedly self-styled Thought Criminals were the biggest influences on my under-developed teenage musical sensibilities. Which is a roundabout way of saying I like 'em better the second time around and they probably deserve more consideration when it comes to bands that made a mark on the nascent Harbour City punk scene. Here's the evidence.
One of the leading lights on a small but fast-expanding underground scene, the Thought Criminals were also one of the first so-called punk bands that wasn't trying to be Radio Birdman. Born in 1977, they grew, initially, apart from the Oxford Funhouse scene but went on to mix it with some of its denizens. They put out a couple of EPs, a single and an album. Their sound sat somewhere between Wire and the straight punk acts, mixed vaguely Rottenesque-meets-Biafra vocals (sneer factor turned down and going easy on the helium) with questioning lyrics, underdone guitar and (later) keyboards.
While we can note that the Thoughties, whether by design or more likely accident, became something of a punk rock cottage industry in the most complete form of the term, being booking agency, record label, poster house and band all in one, it's the music that should (and does) matter the most. Their later output was arguably their lesser, but on balance the songs still stand up well over the course of this two-disc set.
It was a shame that, used record bins apart, the only place you could find the best of this stuff in the '90s was on bootleg CDs that were crudely transferred from vinyl (I'm thinking the "Murder Punk" series from the US) because there was a whole generation of kids looking for soemthing other than MOR pap or grunge. . Rumours of the release of this set were, from time to time, exaggerated. More than a a decade in the offing but worth the wait, it's mightily packaged - a double digipak for the 2CD edition and vinyl (naturally enough) for the LP. You can also take the band's "I Won't Pay" (for punk records) ethos at face value and download MP3s (there's that unclean word again) but that would be a shame as you'd miss the accompanying booklet.
There are 43 songs, a handful of them minor classics (Myself, I lean towards the earlier stuff like "Fuck the Neighbours", "I Won't Pay", "Hilton Bomber" and "More Suicides Please"). Non-fans of tremulous vocals vocals may look elsewhere, but there's a nice grittiness in the playing for most of the way.
Lyrically, the Thought Criminals eschewed the more obvious nihilism of the mindless pogo crowd and wore their razor blade hearts on their sleeves - along with paint splashes from daubing walls with their slogans. This was a band that was about challenging the social order of things without burying it all under bucketloads of noise. They questioned Big Brother long before he was just a disembodied voice on reality TV challenging trashy slags and narcissistic bogans to do something vaguely outrageous for potloads of money. There's the odd lyrical non-sequitir among the exhortations for office workers to jump off towers, but there's a more humour and, er, thought in evidence than many of their contemporaries could muster. Maybe you already derived that from the band's Orwellian name, but you could just as easily read the lyrics/slogans in the CD booklet.
Members of the Thought Criminals went on to Died Pretty, the first New Christs (studio only) line-up, Do Re Mi and major record label senior management. This album bears no relation to any of the preceeding. Buy it and you could probably win ample beers from posing the question: Which Hoodoo Gurus member was (briefly) a Thought Criminal? I know I have. – The Barman
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