Provincializm: Blitz, New Order, Dusty Grails of the ’80s


This is Provincializm #9, a weekly SOTC column in which William Bowers writes about whatever the hell he wants. Dude lives in Florida, writes for Pitchfork, Paste, Magnet, and his work’s been in a da Capo anthology. We like. When he’s not here, he’s here at Puritan Blister.

Understated ain’t hood


I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Somebody Who Hates Me)

by William Bowers

Maybe it was another aural hallucination, but I could totally swear that this week as I was fossil-fueling along, hoping to get my imagination shepherded through commuter purgatory by NPR’s slumming, nonprofit culture-porn, I heard a segment (which I can’t find referenced in any online archive) about how a type of songbird—sparrows, maybe—are more attracted to partners singing new (or new versions of old) songs, encouraging strongly the idea that birdsong isn’t instinctual but fucking acculturated, and novelty-centric to boot. Possible scientific confirmation that new music has cosmic reproductive significance, or is a biological imperative, totally derailed a crotchety invective I was halfway finished typing, a righteous and overlong tut-tut to those slavish bloggers (and their slavish visitors) who privilege contemporaneity over quality or historical context. Sigh—pathetic fallacy and reverse anthropomorphism notwithstanding, I felt forced to reach into a folder of my external hard drive entitled “Dusty Grails of the 80s” to counter the hegemony of overcelebrated newness/nowness with a fine example of its unsung ancestry. Case in point: 1983’s Second Empire Justice, by Blitz (UK, not Brazil).

I’d claim to almost hate all non-SEJ Blitz except “New Age” if the jerks hadn’t penned such freakishly/embarrassingly undeniable hooks. The band was a pre-racist, pre-skinhead oi/streethood outfit whose hits can be found, when Tyoogling, in the unpassword-protected files of the occasional cretinous member of white-supremacist webforum Every Blitz release except SEJ is puerile and antisocial; their outskirts-of-Manchester bumrush-bluster comes across (especially to stateside listeners) as an exceedingly macho, jokeless mash-up of Social Distortion and the Misfits, who at least winked their tough “villain” poses into comically Satanic/interplanetary palatability. Dig Blitz’s bloke-harness song titles: “Fight To Live,” “We Are The Boys,” “Razors In The Night,” “Warriors,” “Someone’s Gonna Die,” “Never Surrender” etc. The oeuvre of an R&B singer fixated on skeezer-fingering probably displays more topical diversity than non-SEJ Blitz’s homoerotic (in that it’s preoccupied with producing mutual/communal man-sweat) tusslecore.

Obviously, the greatest rock/pop/dance song in world/human history is “Ceremony,” by Joy Division/New Order, duh. It earns/owns its mythic stature as an indicant of what-could-have-been, as the transitional cocoon-tune (thank heavens Cobain didn’t bequeath a similar masterpiece to the Foo Fighters), and cover versions of it by Galaxie 500 and Xiu Xiu further maintain and benefit from its glory—check its perfect sandwiching between Devo and Bowie on the Life Aquatic trailer. The best song of 2007, by very, very far, is of course LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” which cops major chunks of “Ceremony”’s, um, guitar, bass, and drums. (Go ahead and sing one over the over if you can’t play an instrument, have access to both tracks, and still don’t believe me.) Well, of all the bands rightfully accused of cribbing from Ian, Bernard, Peter, and Stephen, Blitz arguably did it best on SEJ, and they never would have taken the LCD route of composing a (this is from the press release) “disco symphony” for Nike’s monocultural ass. Blitz’s danceable “Ceremony”-esque Monster Single “New Age” set the stage for SEJ, but then the band’s founder Alan “Nidge” Miller fell out with its greatest vocalist, the droog-impersonating Carl Fisher. A tiff ensued about who could continue to play as Blitz; and yikes, both camps thanklessly trudged forth under the same banner.

IwishIwishIwish that Carl Fisher hadn’t insisted on using the Blitz name for Second Empire Justice, as the album does not fit into that band’s terrible subsequent trajectory at all, and ironically, this postpunk dance gem—hated in its day as a sellout/softening—is done a disservice by appearing in a discography alongside Nidge’s later aggro/backlooking-to-the-point-of-self-homaging bullshit (which he perpetuated until, bless his heart, his drunk-walking car-death this February). Nidge called SEJ a “tosswank,” and said that Fisher should have changed the band name to “Spandau Cabbage,” but sucks to his stasis; Fisher wanted to evolve, and he was in thrall to Joy Division/ New Order and the whole 12-inch dance culture, and hell, Martin Hannetts’s assistant was on board to produce, leading to a pinnacle of unfuckwithable mimicry.

“Flowers & Fire”’s cadence and bassline familiar? Yup, yr thinking of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Wait, isn’t “Acolyte” just The Cure’s “A Forest,” also known as New Order’s “3-8-6”? Yes, but few current dancepunk acts would risk its noise breakdown. “Into The Daylight” is pretty much darklit Yazoo. “White Man” channels an evil Clash dropping an evil Combat Rock. You’ll go on to hear early Depeche Mode and that first Ministry in this ideal bridge from post-punk dance music into goth ridiculousness. The album progresses like a novel: the first third’s anthemic singles drift into the middle’s icy Mammon-evoking mechanization (whoa, the DNA-ishly pummeling repetition of “Skin”!) only to emerge into dance territory at the end, replete with Siouxsie-ian tones and longer mixes suggesting a John Hughes dystopia, Buy this album, seriously, but beware of the itunes version only featuring 9 of the 14 proper tracks. This blogger offers a three-song preview, while this one illegally offers the whole shebang? My main point: to hell with October’s forthcoming mopus by Ian-Curtis legacy-tarnishers She Wants Febreeze.