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    The Slits

    Cut ( 1979 )
    Instant Hit / So Tough / Spend, Spend, Spend / Shoplifting / FM / Newtown / Ping Pong Affair / Love und Romance / Typical Girls / Adventures Close to Home

    Punk said to everybody get up and have a go. Rock music had been very much a male preserve, but punk got Ari-Up, Siouxsie Sioux, etc, etc to indeed get up and have a go - no matter how bad, at least initially, the musicians they found were. The Slits were quite a racous affair from the outset by all acounts although as they gradually gelled found themselves developing a reasonably unique reggae influenced punk sound. Hailed as the first all-female British punk group, their line-up has in fact included male members along the way but the band are usually presented with the females very much to the fore. 'Cut' features our Slit friends half-naked and covered in mud on the album cover, for no reason other than they can, for personal freedom rather than exploiting themselves. It certainly makes for a striking album cover and no doubt was quite Woolworths unfriendly back in the day. A brilliant, punk thing to do, all told. John Peel adored 'Cut' and that's good enough for me and should be for you too.

    'Cut' is a hybrid of punk/reggae/pop/avant-garde/amateurishness with a throwing in of Ari-Up's unique 'head-butting goat/song-bird' yelp for good measure. Plenty of call and response vocals as the music hypnotically weaves in and out of metronomic drum rhythms, reggae bass lines and post-punk guitar scratches. The head of Island Records wanted a cover of 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' to be released as their first single. In the event, it came out as b-side to 'Typical Girls', which didn't chart but did a lot more for their credibility than a fairly uninteresting Marvin Gaye cover version would have done. 'Typical Girls' by the way features as the second to last song here, not something that would happen in this day and age. It's a striking song with unusual reggae rhythms and a strong lyric and vocal. 'Shoplifiting', 'Ping Pong Affair' and 'Instant Hit' are all further standouts on an album that offers just enough variation in rhythms not to get boring. Indeed, you wish this were just part one of a two part album. Sadly for 'The Slits' things changed so much back then that their second album flopped entirely. Still, we have this to remember them by and rumour has it, a brand new album to be released in 2009.

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    Peel Sessions 8 ( 1978-1982 )
    Love And Romance / Vindictive / New Town / Shoplifting / So Tough / Instant Hit / FM / Difficult Fun / In The Beginning / Earthbeat-Wedding Song

    Released in 1988 long after The Slits had split up for the first time, 'Peel Sessions' opens with a take on 'Love And Romance' practically unrecognizable from the album version. This is far rawer, far more punk and actually, far more pumelling and enjoyable, dare I say. The BBC production actually places this somewhere near Joy Division's early days, quite interesting. Indeed, a BBC engineer was to say the following It was everyone hitting anything as loudly as possible; vaguely in time, there was a sort of rhythm there, and this maniac shrieking on top...it just sounded painful...The tuning of the guitars was all over the place...so myself and the other engineer...had to go out and tune them ourselves...they didn't have a clue how to - and band-member Viv Albertine went onto add it had been their first time in the studio and she couldn't believe how much energy they had. This is certainly borne out listening to the two minute long 'Vindictive', less a song and more of a random attack on their instruments. 'Shoplifting' sounds more or less similar in structure to the version that would later appear on 'Cut' and in some ways, it's a shame 'Cut' was The Slits first album rather than their second. Still, at least we have this first Peel session(s), recorded 1977/1978 to remember this era by. I think a key thing to remember is that The Slits were truly an all girl band at this stage, with Palmolive playing drums whereas 'Budgie' from Siouxsie and the Banshees would lend a different, less punk feel to the debut album 'Cut'.

    The third and final session here is taken from 1981 by when The Slits had really forgotten the reason why they started a band in the first place. A young Nenah (Buffalo Stance) Cherry features on backing vocals and they have a male keyboardist and a male drummer. The bass rhythms are still present and correct as are the unique vocals stylings of Ari-Up, yet a sense of them being more of an ordinary band permeates this session. 'In The Beginning' lasts eleven minutes, the closing 'Earthbeat-Wedding Song' lasts in excess of eight minutes - there's still plenty of experimentation here yet with 'Steve' playing funk bass all over the start of 'In The Beginning', fans of the early days of The Slits would be completely forgiven for switching off at this stage and many of them did.

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    Trapped Animal ( 2009 )
    Ask Ma / Lazy Slam / Pay Rent / Reject / Trapped Animal / Issues / Peer Pressure / Partner from Hell / Babylon / Cry Baby / Reggae Gypsy / Be It / Can't Relate / Had a Day

    Ari-Up and Tessa Pollitt are on-hand with a bunch of new recruits to record the first Slits album in some twenty-eight years. They still plunder reggae rhythms and also are on hand with a disarmingly professional sound, albeit a deeply eccentric one. Holly Cook, Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook's daughter is the new keyboard player, so that's kind of cool in reaffirming The Slits punk roots. The sound of 'Trapped Animals' is anything but punk, which may disappoint some, yet listen without predjudice, isn't that what we're all supposed to do? 'Ask Ma' is a very experimental opener, pleasingly 'Slits', so I wasn't really expecting 'Lazy Slam' - very Dancehall modern reggae stylings complete with vocals that during the chorus sound like pop girl-group Bananarama. 'Pay Rent' is the type of song-title we expect from The Slits yet their continuing insistence on using an ultra modern programmed dance sound is unsettling initially. After a few listens, you just begin to realise such experimentation was their right from the start of 'The Slits' way back in 1978. It feels more authentic actually than tired re-treads of former glories, aka Buzzcocks or The Damned.

    'Reject' is quite brilliant Slits, a jerky rhythm, howling backing vocals and Ari-Up back to prime-time form. The title track continues in this vein and suddenly the album has woken up from nice experimentation and worthiness, to jerkiness and silly vocals and melodies that make you grin. Hurrah! Proper reggae arrives with the likes of 'Partner From Hell' and 'Babylon' - excellently done if ever so slightly dull. 'Cry Baby' is lovely summer pop with surprisingly sweet vocals, 'Reggae Gypsy' is a mis-step. Sure, it has a party carnival sound but it also rhymes gypsy with typsy and it does this quite a lot throughout a very irritating chorus. Ultimately 'Trapped Animal' loses the listeners interest the longer it continues, partly because an hour is too much Slits on record in one sitting, and partly because after mid album highpoints there's not enough left to maintain excitement.

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    this page last updated 25/10/09


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