SEX PISTOLS, Never Mind The Bollocks / Spunk/ Filthy Lucre Live, Album reissue reviews, 1996, Melody Maker
(Melody Maker. 27th July 1996)
First, the reissue of the one great album, complete with demos, then the arrival of a live record of Finsburv Park. Now much do you need to hear of THE SEX PISTOLS?
Never Mind The Bollocks / Spunk (Virgin)Filthy Lucre Live (Virgin)
And so they’re slotted in, the punk chapter in every Big Book Of Rock. Flick through the index and they’ll be there between Santana and Del Shannon in bold type; the next time they do one of those 100 Best Albums Of All Time radio votes they’ll be nestling neatly at about number twenty-six, betwixt Blonde On Blonde and Dark Side Of The Moon, processed, placed, understood. McLaren, born smirking and uncaring, will recline with a cigar and a smug sense of vindication and wait for his cheques. The band will stand another round in the local. Lydon, who you hope is past caring, will fly home and feed his plants and die. The Sex Pistols are history, meaningful figures, boring, everything they resisted, everything it was inevitable they’d become. But Never Mind The Bollocks, as a human transmission, as a piece of plastic, as an idea, even through the putrid rose-tints of retrospect, even with the distance of time and the accumulation of official sanction, is still a bomb beyond appraisal, impossible, UNDENIABLE.
I was five when this was released. It sparks no recollections. I remember Sham 69 on “Tiswas", The Boomtown Rats, Sid Snot, and that’s punk for me. But Bollocks reaches over time, culture, memory and f**ing chokes you. “Holidays ln The Sun” engulfs you, with too many thoughts, too much to be sated, a sound that’s still unsurpassed, still unmediable, still resistant to everything but its own demented logic. “Bodies” is the closest music has ever got to pure nihilism, grooves steeped and knee-deep in loathing, gasping in disgust sinking in infinite hatred. “Anarchy” will place demands on the rest of your life if you are mad enough to let it, “Pretty Vacant” is for jukeboxes and Dave Lee Travis, the rest is kindling or gospel depending on your mood or your inclination.
What’s true is that it’s all uncomfortable, all unbreakable, it’s all still here, out of time, but creating its own context in ‘96 as you let it in. What’s curious is how a band of chancers and ne’er do-wells could pretty much perfect rock music 30 years after it started and 20 years before it began to die. No other band before or since had sounded quite so driven, quite so urgent, quite so up at you and gouging. What’s weird is that Johnny Rotten’s voice doesn’t sound like a relic from a bygone age, it sounds as unanswerable and distressingly human as it ever did. What’s strange is that this stuff touches you, after 20 years that have been cursed by its continued worship and acceptance.
Oh, forget the live LP (not because it’s sad or a betrayal or a live album, just because it’s dull basically, Bollocks with a sagging paunch and a few thousand cider-punk screams) and forget the extra tracks (on Spunk the bootleg demo LP hawked about before the original release of Bollocks; interesting for the deeper wail of Lydon’s proto-P.I.L. vocals but not much else). Forget the filling in of gaps in the story (stories have endings), the footnotes and footholds and explanations. Forget the archaeology and listen to “Holidays In The Sun”. It makes you want to change the world, it makes you want to kill the Pistol’s stranglehold on pop for good and go one better. That’s all that matters, that’s enough for now.