Amid the teetering, tottering, swaying skyscrapers of punk rock compilations with which our ears have been safety-pinned back in recent years....
Amid the “let’s sell it one more time, just in case there’s a Himalayan goat-herder who was backpacking in Antarctica the last seven times we reissued it....”
Amid the [insert your own despairing cry here]...
... it’s more than reassuring, it’s staggeringly, blindingly, brilliant to spot a new release twinkling in the Punky Archival firmament that doesn’t simply promise to be interesting, it promises to be something different as well. And when you get it home and put it on, correct on both counts.
In fact, Paink (French Punk Anthems 1977-1982) might well be the most interesting, and different, contribution to the field this year. And precisely the kind of demolition team that those aforementioned skyscrapers really require. Smash them down, you don’t need them. You need this, instead.
French Punk, unless you are French and a punk, is not exactly an over-mined seam in the US. Or the UK, for that matter. The Stinky Toys gathered a modicum of love on account of having such a great name. Little Bob Story and Shaking Street were bumped into the bag without sounding, looking or being anything to do with it. Marie et les Garcons were produced by John Cale, but that did not transform them in to the new Menace. Telephone were way too pop, and Plastic Bertrand wasn’t even French. And here endeth most people’s knowledge of the subject.
So, nine probably new names for you to wrap your probably-hopeless French accent around.
The mildly dischordant purr of Marie France, Warm Gun, the Guilty Razors, Gasoline, the mysterious art attack of Ruth Elyeri, first wave 1977 Parisian assault-mongers... no more or less in thrall to what was happening elsewhere than you’d say the Pistols were in debt to Television, or Patti Smith owed her all to the Slits. There’s a common thread, of course, or else we wouldn’t call it punk in the first place, and Gasoline, in particular, have a kids-on-the-street shouty crunchiness that could not have been cast in any other era.
But it’s defiantly individualistic all the same, and that’s the only thread we should really care for. That the bands are actually any good. Yes they are.
And something else to bear in mind, while we’re talking about influences. Until punk rock made them the big names to drop, America utterly ignored both the Stooges and the New York Dolls. Brits knew the names, because of Bowie and Old Grey Whistle Test, but they didn’t really care much either. If you wanted to actually buy either band’s albums, there was just one country on earth where they were still in print, and still selling, all the way through the first half of the 1970s. France.
Meaning, the kids (because that’s what they were at the time) on this record had a helluva stronger grip on a vital component in Punk’s DNA that probably ninety percent of the bands overseas. Brits and Americans came to the Stooges second-hand. The French grew up with them. And this is the end result.
Remember, too, the first punk label, the one that predated New Hormones and Rabid and all the rest; the missing link betwixt Bomp and Stiff, in fact. Skydog. It was French. Meaning... yeah, you’ve got it already, haven’t you.
Soggy have a great name, and “Waiting for the War” is a foreboding slab of snarling glammy sleaze that will make your little tootsies curl with delight. There’s a guitar solo midships that you simply have to hear.
“I Don’t Wanna Be Rich,” the Razors rough-edged rampage, maybe packs the kind of title that a thousand Brit bands had already passed by, but that doesn’t detract from its demented energy, any more than Warm Gun’s “Broken Windows” could be anything but a genuine bellow of disaffected rage - shot through with just enough of a sly sense of humor that they avoid the po-facedness that haunts so many UK acts.
Sexe a Pile sound like they listened to the first Buzzcocks album, and wondered what it might sound like if the guitars were grafted onto something a little less romantic. Strychnine, local guerillas at the 1977 Mont de Marsan punk festival, are here in all their sort-of Damnedy glory; and so is a raw contingent of the bands that arose from Rouen.
Les Olivensteins with the driven, pulsing riffing of “Euthanasia”; Les Nouveaux Riches, whose “25 ans” remarkably manages to sound as though it’s playing both backwards and forwards at the same time (probably because it is); the warp speed sixties beat inflections of Les Dogs - okay, some of you may have heard of them as well. Gloires Locales. Electrochoc, whose borderline staccato “Chaise Electrique” demands clever writer-y puns like “shocking” and fizzing” and “it makes your legs jerk,” but it isn’t going to get them here. It’s a lot of fun, though, and might remind you of the Dead Boys a bit.
As is... everything else here. A little disconcertingly, writer Eric Tandy’s lengthy liner notes are en Francais seulement, but you might be able to struggle through them with a dictionary. Or you could just go to the Born Bad label’s website, scroll down the page, and read the translation.
Because you should, and I think you will. Paink may not be the first ever compilation of livid French punk rock... that honor resides with 125 grammes de 33t, back in 1978. It may not be the first archival one, either. Both Skydog and New Rose have scraped their own vaults already.
But in terms of what is sitting fresh and fragrant on the new release rack now; and in terms, too, of actually encountering music that you almost certainly won’t have heard before (but you should have.... my goodness, you should have), Paink is what we have all been waiting for.
Something that makes old punk rock sound exciting again!