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Music Review: Buzzcocks – A Different Kind Of Tension (Special Edition)

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A Different Kind Of Tension is the third and final installment in Mute Records’ excellent Buzzcocks reissue program. Like the previous sets, Tension contains the contemporary singles, demos, and John Peel Sessions in addition to the original record. In this case, the extracurricular material is crucial, for it documents the sound of a band coming apart.

1978 had seen the release of two full LPs, Another Music In A Different Kitchen and Love Bites. They had also issued five singles (which with B-sides add up to nearly an album’s worth of tunes themselves). In 1979, the year Tension was released, the pace had clearly caught up to the group. The fact that lead ‘cock Pete Shelley was tripping on LSD at the time did not help matters.

For those of us in the United States, the release of Singles Going Steady in early 1979 was a revelation. The 16-song compilation was nearly ideal, featuring all the hit singles in chronological order, the A-sides on the A-side, and the B-sides on the B-side. Even more exciting was the fact that the two most recent ones were included, and both boded extremely well for the new record.

I was right there when the first all-new Buzzcocks album came to the local record store. The very first track, the punky “Paradise,” hooked me. “You Say You Don’t Love Me” should have been a hit, and the side’s closer “Raison d’Etre” was another blast of punk, with a psychedelic guitar solo twist.

Side two was another beast entirely. The five songs that make up this mini-suite resonate a lot deeper than anything the band had done previously. Lyrically and musically, this is the sound of a mind coming unglued. Although it took me a while to realize this, the evidence is there in the song titles alone: “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life,” “Hollow Inside,” and “A Different Kind Of Tension.”

The fact is, the band were burned out. This is nothing new of course, it happens all the time. But what makes Tension such a great record is the fact that the Buzzcocks were actually able to essay the process. When most bands “lose it” the situation is usually pretty obvious, the records simply suck. Not so with the Buzzcocks. The five closing songs of Tension (six if you count the 41-second “Radio Nine”) are a mix of psychedelia, punk, power-pop, and the avant-garde. They are unlike anything else released by a major group of first-wave British punk. Incredible.

I had already heard the two singles associated with Tension, as they were included on Singles Going Steady. They are here as well. The six and a half minute “Why Can’t I Touch It?” was the B-side to “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays.” It may be the single greatest track they ever recorded, an absolutely stunning example of a band at its creative peak.

The journey down the rabbit hole began in earnest in 1980, as the group attempted to follow up Tension. What was later issued as an EP titled Parts 1-3 were recorded at this time. The idea was to release six singles, then put them all together to form an LP. They only got out three before the implosion. The significance of them lies in the full emergence of Steve Diggle as a major talent. His “Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore,” “Airwaves Dream,” and “Running Free,” are the highlights.

The final recording of the classic line-up was “I Look Alone.” Sadly, it found the once mighty Buzzcocks going out with a whimper, not a bang. The following year, Shelley would release one of the projected songs for Parts 1-6 titled “Homosapien.” It would prove to be a bigger hit than anything the band ever did, which is unfortunate, because it has virtually nothing in common with what this great group achieved in their brief time together.

There are 11 demo versions on this Special Edition, which should appeal to hardcore fans. Also, two John Peel Shows are represented, for a total of four tracks done live in the studio.

A lot of people rate A Different Kind Of Tension as the Buzzcock’s finest moment, and it is hard to disagree. I think all three of the original albums are worthy though. Mute Records have done an outstanding job with this reissue series, and all three Special Editions are highly recommended.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Glen Boyd

    Will have to check this out.

  • zingzing

    have you ever noticed similarity between “why can’t i touch it?” and “jack and diane” by some hobo from indiana? i guess it’s just in the bass line, but they sort of feel similar in a very dissimilar way.

    and “homosapien” is brilliant. it may lack the group interplay, but it has the same magic, i say. it’s really a fantastic song.

  • Greg Barbrick


    Now that you mention it, that Indiana hobo did cop the bassline. What I like about the song so much are the guitars. Great sound.

    I like “Homosapien” too, but in a much different way. It is pure synth, which is fine when you are in the mood. It just strikes me as SO far removed from the Buzzcocks.

  • zingzing

    my favorite song of theirs is “i believe.” that is just such a ridiculously good song. so moving. but you fail to mention it. shame.

    “homosapien,” as you mention, was intended to be a buzzcocks song. that whole album was just demos for the band, but then they broke up. i’m sure it would have been different if they had recorded it, but it’s perfect as is. it’s only removed from the buzzcocks in that it was a demo, i think. i love the buzzcocks for many reasons, but pete shelley’s creativity is first among them. and the “homosapien” album displays it in spades.

  • Greg Barbrick

    “I Believe” is a great song, I probably should have mentioned it. I think practically everything they did is worthwhile though, to be honest.

    Such a great band.