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.