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Vinyl Tap: Stiff Little Fingers – Nobody’s Heroes

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #45:  

    Plenty of folk to tell you what to do
    But they don't speak the same language as you…

Frustration, too, can be power – with the potential to seek out and resurge from outlets both personal and political. As much as Stiff Little Fingers were touted as, or relegated to being, “the Irish Clash,” they were indeed another band that mattered in their own way, making their own distinctive mark amongst the onrush of late ‘70s punk not only with economic pointedness, commitment, and force – but with melodic underpinnings and infectious accessibility. Indeed, the Belfast-based band offers a potent mix of strident energy along with plenty of hooks to hang a harangue or an aspiration or two.

1980’s Nobody’s Heroes is SLF's follow-up to their 1979 debut album Inflammable Material, which packed a visceral political and raucous wallop as it centered on the volatility of life and strife in Northern Ireland. In 1979, London was calling, with the group moving there and embracing broader, more universal topics for Nobody’s Heroes as it addresses such issues as personal isolation, war, and racism.

The venom of the rousing lead-off track, “Gotta Gettaway,” sees the Strummer-streptococcal voiced Jake Burns — along with Henry Cluney (guitar), Jim Reilly (drums), and Ali McMordie (bass) — kick off a non-stop and cohesively explosive side one with an account of domestic discord that’s only a piece of a bigger puzzle:

    My father argued and my mother begged
    It's not their words ain't tugging at me
    But gotta stretch them break them get myself free…

    …Gotta gotta gettaway, gotta gotta gettaway

    I'm leaving home.

In the stellar stand-out grabber, “At the Edge,” Burns expands on the homebound friction, with parental one-on-ones that might seem familiar: “I've no time to talk about it / All your stupid hopes and dreams…” But, beyond a youth “under my roof, by my rules,” the existence of ever-shadowing and lifelong meet-the-new-boss authority figures is acknowledged as disputation is provoked and Bob Dylan paraphrased:

    And I'm running at the edge of their world
    They're criticizing something they just can't understand
    Living on the edge of their town
    And I won't be shot down.

When the “gettaway” is complete in a physical sense, the scope of inner turmoil, barely articulable at times, expands to take in perceptions of the social and political world. If “Fly the Flag” straddles a petulant gripe-fest with its refrain to “Gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme,” the song still designates an awakening of sorts with targeted awareness: “Gimme a Britain that's got back the Great.”

Similarly, the title song that ends side one alters its lyrical course when its clarion call for personal responsibility and independence ends with a surprise, and almost insipid, affirmation: “You think you're nobody, and I have all the fun / But no one is a nobody, everyone is someone / Be what you are.”

Side two of Nobody’s Heroes loses some momentum with a couple of reggae-flavored tracks before returning to slash ’n’ burn tactics and protestations, though “No Change” has a crisp and brisk Buzzcocks feel. The anti-military “Tin Soldier” takes on an enlistment dilemma in which the subject “signed away his life“ when he “joined up for just three years, it seemed a small amount / But they didn't tell him that the first two didn't count”:

    He joined up to get a job and show he wasn't scared
    Swapped boy scout hat for army cap, he thought he'd be prepared
    At the age of 17 he was forced to choose
    At the age of 21 he's in Catch 22.

Again and again, gotta gotta gettaway…

About Gordon Hauptfleisch