Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Various Artists - Fast Product: Mutant Pop

Various Artists
Fast Product: Mutant Pop


Released 1980 on PVC / Fast Product
Reviewed by Lugia, 24/09/2004ce


Various Artists - "Fast Product: Mutant Pop"
PVC /Fast Product PVC 7912. Released 1980.
Originally released with different track listing in UK as "The First Year Plan". Reissued with extra tracks by Fire Engines and The Human League in 1993 as "Rigour, Discipline and Disgust".

Side 1:
1) The Mekons: "Never Been In a Riot"
2) " ": "32 Weeks"
3) " ": "Where Were You?"
4) Scars: "Adult/ery"
5) " ": "Horrorshow"
6) The Human League: "Being Boiled"
7) " ": "Circus of Death"

Side 2:
1) 2.3 "All Time Low"
2) " ": "Where To Now?"
3) The Flowers: "After Dark"
4) " ": "Confessions"
5) Gang of Four: "Love Like Anthrax"
6) " ": "Armalite Rifle"
7) " ": "Damaged Goods"

Geez...how can a label get things so very right? These days, you don't see this sort of thing. But in the heyday of punk/post-punk indies in the UK in the late 70s, it happened more than once. And Bob Last's Fast Product label managed to nail it well more than once, as this compilation release for the American market proves.

Six bands share the vinyl here, and while half never made a massive dent on things, three...Mekons, The Human League, and Gang of Four...definitely did so to varying degrees of lasting success. And while the lineup here is a half-n-half of that sort, ALL of the material on this thing was a breath of fresh air for those of us on this side of the Atlantic who'd been hearing some buzz about some of these names. Going a bit further than the usual 'punk' sound, Fast Product released some critical stuff at a crux in time where punk was fading in one sense, but in another was being crosspollinated to create...well, like the title says, "mutant pop". Some excellent examples are herein...

The whole thing leads off with The Mekons, in fact...no, this is not the country-punk incarnation that later came to define them, but the original and...in the case of "Never Been In a Riot" and "32 Weeks"...raw as a scab version. The third track ("Where Were You?"), cut in a proper studio, is still no less raw, but has a tad more aural sophistication. Nevertheless, it's fine, jangly, ugly, and if it doesn't move you around the room, you need to call a doctor. Yeah...25+ years old, and it still makes 98% of the new 'punk' out there sound like a cruel prank.

Scars tear into things next, with the two sides of their early '79 single "Adult/ery" b/w "Horrorshow". And once again, everything hits home. Where did this outfit get to? I don't know myself, but I can say that it's satisfying, especially the latter track where a slowed, quasi-funk bassline underpins all the jangle and yelling, declamatory vocals. Yup. Yupyupyup. Like it.

And then...no, this is NOT "Don't You Want Me". But it IS The Human League. However, in this incarnation (1978...the "Being Boiled"/"Circus of Death" single) they're more in the stripped-down synth-industrial minimal style of their Sheffield compats, Cabaret Voltaire. Contrasting the A side of this with the 'produced' and funky version on their second full album, a couple of years later...well, I prefer this 'radiophonic workshop on a budget of $1.98' sound, honestly. "Circus of Death" is something of a story...but assembled from disparate sources (including a sample from John Carpenter's early film "Dark Star"), and not very listener-friendly if one's expecting the poppy treacle the later version of the group espoused. Still...the vocal is unmistakeable...and a shock to hear in such sparse, hostile surroundings.

Side B...and 2.3 and "All Time Low". This isn't the strongest stuff on here...more like textbook power-pop of the era, actually. Too smooth, in a way...a bit too NYC-manneristic, in a sense. And "Where To Now?" seems a bit too much like a Who lift for my tastes.

The Flowers, though, get things more back into the groove from the A-side of the album. There's a lot here that reminds me of some similar groups of the period...Delta 5, Raincoats...and not just the female lead vocal. The sound is back to that stripped-down and primal thud approach, the guitars jang and squee again on these 1979 tracks. One might be tempted to say there was sort of a certain 'Brit indie label sound' in play here, but if that should be the case, I don't think you can take it as a negative. Instead, it's indicative of what The Flowers deliver on "After Dark" and "Confessions"...top-notch post-punk pop. Again, it's something one wishes was heard more these days, instead of the formula identikit corporate 'punk' played on any 'alternative' station.

And then your stereo blows the FUCK UP.

Why? It's the intro to "Love Like Anthrax" by Gang of Four, that's why. Much rawer than the later version on "Entertainment", this hateful and noisy mess proceeds to thrash your ass. The drums and bass pound like a mutant loop, while the guitar comes in and out with impersonations of bomber attacks, shearing metal, noise, etc etc etc. God, yes. "Armalite Rifle" follows this, and even as the 'weakest' of GoF's tracks here, it blows the doors off of...well, you name it, really. And it well-set the tone of GoF's political rhetoric-while-u-dance as that would emerge on their future releases. And then "Damaged Goods"...what can I say? Perfection. A sound that influenced things. Going back to this, and then fastforwarding to something such as, say, those early Red Hot Chili Peppers releases causes one to say 'aha!', as the wellspring of that metal/powerpop/funk sound is once more uncovered. Innovative then, and a historical cornerstone now.

Just on the basis of those last three tracks alone, this comp is worth having. But even moreso, it's a testament en toto to how quality indie music...in those halcyon days...could have such an impact even down to today. Even the sleeve art itself, using stripped-down graphics, finds echoes in what one sees on CD booklets today. Fast Product as a label disappeared back in these wild days, but the reverberations live on...as one would expect when one hits the target so dead-on, musically.


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