Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: The Adverts
- Album: Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts
- Year of Release: 1978
- Country: UK
- Label: Essential
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: ESMCD451
Over 40 years after UK punk burst into mainstream consciousness, it’s fair to say that The Adverts don’t enjoy the profile of The Sex Pistols, The Clash or The Damned, bands generally credited with popularising the iconoclastic scene in a blaze of televisual profanity, outrageous fashion and riotous gigs. In fact, they don’t even quite enjoy the profile of some of the lesser lights of the late 70s punk scene, such as Stiff Little Fingers or Sham 69, perhaps because they’ve never properly reformed. This is a shame, as The Adverts debut album, released close enough to 1977 for the band to be able to claim the credibility of original, rather than copycat, punks, is an enjoyable blend of melodic hooks and lyrical content that represents an authentic voice of working class youth.
Although their star may have fallen somewhat in the intervening decades, when Crossing The Red Sea… was released, the band were enjoying a rapidly rising profile, powered by a brace of successful singles, including the Top 20 hit ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ which saw them perform on Top Of The Pops in the summer of 1977, mere months after the enormous controversy generated by The Sex Pistols own inimitable Silver Jubilee celebration, the seminal single ‘God Save The Queen’. The band had very much been there at the genesis of the movement, playing frequently in the London punk clubs in 1976/77 after relocating from their native Devon, including gigs with such luminaries as The Jam and The Damned. Incidentally, despite its success, ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ was omitted from the original pressing of their debut, although it was added to the track-listing on the re-issued version that is the subject of this particular review.
Despite their associations with the nascent punk scene, however, Crossing The Red Sea… is not festooned with the buzzsaw guitars and snarling vocals that might be expected. Although the tempos are relatively speedy throughout, much of The Adverts music employs a minor key jangle of the type that would be considered indie a few short years later, and in many ways has more in common with the post-punk of bands like Magazine, Wire or (early) The Cure. Opener ‘One Chord Wonders’ amusingly mocks the accusations of more serious musicians that the punks couldn’t play, proving that even the famous ‘three chords’ of punk as outlined in punk fanzine ‘Sideburns’ were two too many, when a single chord would do the job even more efficiently. The title is very much tongue-in-cheek though – the song itself contains considerably more chords than it would suggest, but the celebration of DIY minimalism is still brilliantly energising.
‘Bored Teenagers’ is even better, a ragged blast that truly captures the ennui of suburban British kids with nothing to do and everything to lose. It forms a real expression of the inner emotions of a generation growing up in tough circumstances, wanting and hoping for something better, but struggling to articulate anything beyond the impotent rage of young adults unable to build the world that they want to live in. When T.V. Smith’s inimitable English accent intones the anthemic and melodious chorus ‘We’re just bored teenagers / Looking for love / Or should I say emotional rages / Bored teenagers / Seeing ourselves as strangers’, he surely speaks for a large proportion of his contemporaries, not just across the UK but across the wider world.
The rest of the album, as good as it frequently is, does not quite maintain the heights scaled on the second track. Not uncommonly for the genre, individual songs tend to carry more power than a full-length, delivering a short, sharp shock to the system. There are, of course, truly great punk albums – Never Mind The Bollocks, The Clash, Raw Power – but mere anger, or rage, is not quite enough on its own to produce a masterpiece. And for a band as relatively musically rudimentary as The Adverts were at this point in their career, across a slightly wearing 13 songs, they produce something very good, but not great. The aforementioned ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’, considerably more sinister than it sounds on first listen, once the listener discovers that the eponymous anti-hero is in fact a convicted killer who left the titular eyes to science, is magnificent, the unforgettable descending melody of the chorus representing their most memorable contribution to punk. ‘New Church’ is nearly as good, as 50s rock ‘n’ roll inflected vocals and wall of guitars approximate the sound of the Ramones circa End Of The Century, with Phil Spector in the producer’s seat. Unfortunately, these highlights contrast sharply with the stodgy boogie of ‘No Time To Be 21’, and the listless ‘Drowning Men’.
Crossing The Red Sea… is an album whose importance as a cultural document marginally outweighs its musical quality. A gritty, claustrophobic listen, it represents a vivid and visceral portrayal of life in the UK in the late 1970s for a certain cross-section of young people whose natural youthful optimism was coming into conflict with the harsh realities of life in a time of significant disruption to working class life, as a failing Labour government gave way to a right-wing administration that altered the nation in ways that still reverberate several decades later. As punk splintered into post-punk and goth, many bands would produce arguably more sophisticated and interesting music, but The Adverts’ debut retains a startling and authentic quality to this day that will ensure a small but dedicated audience will continue to keep their name alive for some time yet.