Music Reviews
The Day The Country Died / From The Cradle To The Grave / Time Flies/Rats / Worlds Apart / EP-LP / 29:29 Split Vision

Subhumans The Day The Country Died / From The Cradle To The Grave / Time Flies/Rats / Worlds Apart / EP-LP / 29:29 Split Vision

(Bluurg/Southern) Rating - 10/10

As we’ve recently been experiencing the reissue wave, a byproduct of Pitchfork’s insistence that the CD will be taking a dirt nap in the next couple years, it’s not only the format that’s been receiving reconsideration and enhancements, but the music that’s been resurfacing and making new headlines.  This is nothing new, but when you consider the slew of box sets and DVD-extras, eco-friendly packaging and retrospective liner notes, some of the most extravagant releases to come out this year have been old albums with new treatments, which, at times, make the albums seem more important to the grand scheme than they may have actually been.  In the case of the Subhumans, reissues serve as yet another way to pull the rug out from under the so-called punkers of the modern era and remind the world that there was a point in time when “anarchy” was not such a laughable cliché. 

With system-induced paranoia and the believed corruption of the people running the show, the concept of anarchy probably seemed like a viable solution if you believe that the general population isn’t susceptible to greed, malice or apathy.  The problem is, Subhumans frontman, Dick Lucas, didn’t know who to trust as the bulk of his output not only pointed fingers at the system, but also at the public for accepting it.  Without ever having to really listen to the Subhumans, you can read titles like It’s Gonna Get Worse, Dying World, Where’s The Freedom?, and Apathy and figure out the punchline long before the situation is built up.  But, as redundant as their message got over the course of their initial five-year stretch, their relevance can ultimately be summed up by one somewhat vulgar but truthful observation:  They were a really good fucking band.

Typically, punk rock bands aren’t accredited with musical ability, which is mostly justifiable.  The legendary account of how original Sex Pistols bassist, Glen Matlock, wound up the band’s first casualty, (he liked The Beatles), was more than an inkling of how little punk rock initially wanted to do with pop music or any other 70s arena/radio/fad/whatever that was infiltrating the kiddies’ headspace in those days.  And yet, you had bands like The Damned, whose double LP The Black Album reeked of high-grade musicianship and potential career suicide.  It was seen as a generational answer to The Beatles’ White Album, but a similarly dysfunctional opus that showcased evolved songwriting.  In addition, something as ambitious as Subhumans’ brilliant From The Cradle To The Grave, (their second LP), could’ve put the kybosh on their credibility, their admitted love of King Crimson and Frank Zappa a double whammy as they both clearly influenced the band’s vision. 

But, the subject matter was always brutal enough to keep them relevant.  Even after ’77 NYC punk rock had already made its new wave transition, leaving hardcore its loud, violent, self-righteous stepchild and post-punk its cultured, artistically divergent prodigy, bands like Crass, Flux Of Pink Indians and Subhumans were saying it lots and saying it loud, “I’m anarchic and I’m proud.”

Their first LP The Day The Country Died was released in 1983 and is widely considered an essential for ANY budding or well-stocked rock n’ roll library.  Before the album came to be, Subhumans had released three EPs, all of which are included on the EP-LP compilation:  Demolition War, Reasons For Existence and Religious Wars.  (The Evolution EP also appears on the compilation, but was put out post TDTCD).  Having proved their worth as a prolific powerhouse, TDTCD shows no wear or tear for the sixteen powerful and immediate songs therein, a fast-paced onslaught of loud and well-crafted protest.  The flawless transition from All Gone Dead to Ashtray Dirt is, for me, one of the album’s best moments, indicative of the sort of energetic and diverse arrangements the band employs, aiming to be more than just another angry UK punk band.  And, despite Lucas’s mostly one-track fixation on societal, governmental and class-based subject matter, songs like Mickey Mouse Is Dead and Zyklon-B-Movie at least provide something other than apocalyptic commentary.

As if to validate their decision to start a record label, the first release to emerge from Bluurg records was their follow-up, From The Cradle To The Grave, which was a radical and transcendent evolution.  Theoretically speaking, the album is such a departure one could theorize that Blurrg’s formation was the band’s way of guaranteeing their work would see the light of day, and receive the ears of many.  It’s an incredible album, blurring the line of delineation between traditional punk and indie progressive rock, or offering an early blend of what would later be coined “alternative.”  The eerie Wake Up Screaming, riff-winding Reality Is Waiting For A Bus, rock n’ roll storytelling with Us Fish Must Swim Together and then the acid rock pulse of Rain, is all capped off with the almost 17 minute title track, a suite devoted to life’s plan and its inescapable grasp.

Though the loosely produced Time Flies/Rats compilation followed, their evolution carries over into Worlds Apart, the opening 33322’s guitar inflections almost arena worthy.  Whatever hints at “alternative” music were wrung out of From The Cradle To The Grave, Worlds Apart demonstrates a clear understanding of the underground music scene that had been growing out of post-punk and 70s rock n’ roll nostalgia.  But, with all this experimentation and evolution, Subhumans never lose the plot or take gratuitous liberties.  They grow, but maintain their identity amidst reverent and snarling Dead Kennedys grabs (Apathy), Animals-inspired rock tracks (Heads Of State), low tempo rock/ reggae (Fade Away) and Thin Lizzy punk (Businessmen, Get To Work On Time).  Even Carry On Laughing with its exuberant snare beat, seems like an updated Manic Depression.   

The band broke up in 1985.  Following the band’s demise were the EP-LP compilation (which was more of a retrospective at this point, but qualifies as necessary listening) and their posthumous 29:29 Split Vision

Comparably speaking, 29:29 Split Vision is like listening to Black Sabbath’s Technical Ecstasy in that it wants to do and be more than its capable.  The musicianship is there, but it’s obvious that the show was over.

Currently, Subhumans are together and touring with this arsenal of songs behind them.  Their last album, Internal Riot, was released in 2007. 

Hindsight mostly beneficial to music history, the Subhumans’ reissues are of course deserving of praise.  They sound good; they look good and the music still matters.  As easy as it is to retrace the advancements music’s made over the last twenty years, realize that growth within a genre isn’t always easy, especially one as unforgiving as punk rock.  Though punk's mission statement was one of personal expression and solidarity amongst its brethren, utopian ideals don’t always last when open to interpretation by people that just don’t get it.  Like anarchy, it seems like a good idea when it inspires great music.

The Day The Country Died – 10/10
From The Cradle To The Grave – 10/10
Time Flies/Rats – 7/10
Worlds Apart – 9/10
EP-LP – 10/10
29:29 Split Vision – 7/10