By the time The Buzzcocks released their third album, A Different Kind of Tension, they were nearing the end of their first phase as a band. Drug use and non-stop activity was taking its toll on the four members of the band, and ultimately each one would go his separate way, some joining or forming other bands, while Pete Shelley went solo, releasing the new wave hit “Homosapien” in 1982. Yet before the group split, they dropped their most advanced and forward thinking album to date, a fitting conclusion to their fantastic first trio of albums.
More so than either Love Bites or Another Music In a Different Kitchen, A Different Kind of Tension is a particularly divisive record. In many ways, it’s the most compelling and accomplished of the three. And yet, it’s also the least cohesive. That’s not a slight, but rather a reflection on just how many ideas the band lines up throughout its 12 tracks. Tension finds the band balancing the high speed punk rock raveups of their first album and early singles with a more playfully experimental approach to structure and style. Though the album launches with the fun, straightforward “Paradise,” just one track later they unleash “Sitting Round at Home,” which goes back and forth between dirty biker strut and intense, energetic breakdowns.
“Mad Mad Judy” initially sounds like a more vicious version of the group’s punk-pop approach, but it also reveals a gorgeous interplay of chorus-laden guitar and bass between its barking verses. Likewise, there’s a crisply sinister quality to “Raison d’Etre,” and “Money” slows down the tempo for a crunchy, guitar-wailing lurch. The final third of the album is, much like the album’s predecessors, where the band packs their most radical ideas, starting with the minor key, tom-tom rumbling standout “Hollow Inside.” Next up is the uneasy stomp of the title track, and then the seven-minute “I Believe,” which juxtaposes a list of things Pete Shelley proclaims he believes in, just before a chorus of “There’s no love in this world anymore!” And closing out the record is the odd “Radio Nine,” a 50-second, static-ridden radio dial sequence sampling a few seconds of both “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” and “Why Can’t I Touch It?”
As the third in a series of reissues from Mute, A Different Kind of Tension follows suit with a series of bonus singles, and an entire second disc of extra bonus material. Considering the odd way in which the album ends, Mute’s decision to follow-up the original album with the two singles that it samples is a clever one. “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” and “Why Can’t I Touch It?” are exactly the next two in line, and “Harmony In My Head” and the Stooges-influenced “Something’s Gone Wrong Again” close out the first disc. But the second disc is by far the richest in bonus material of all three of the band’s newest reissues. Where Love Bites and Another Music offered demos and live sets, A Different Kind of Tension features a second disc with seven singles that not only don’t appear on any of the band’s albums, but weren’t on
Singles Going Steady either, for that matter.
The seven tracks that make up the first third of the album’s second disc are significantly different than any of the band’s singles up to that point. A first listen to “Are Everything” is a bit confusing. It almost sounds like the work of a different band. And yet, it’s a fascinating left turn from where things left off before. “Airwaves Dream” is a particularly great track, strong on melody and searing in its riffs. “Strange Thing” is incredibly discordant by the group’s standards, and “What Do You Know?”, led by a squealing saxophone, is yet another directional leap that’s odd, but still enjoyable.
Added on to the bonus singles is another round of demos, including “The Drive System,” “Jesus Made Me Feel Guilty” and the previously unreleased instrumental backing track demo of “Something’s Gone Wrong Again.” That the band fizzled after A Different Kind of Tension isn’t terribly surprising. How anyone could have kept up that kind of pace of performing and recording in a mere two years would require superhuman endurance. But even before they fizzled (and subsequently reformed ten years later), they released one hell of a third album, which was followed-up by even more radical stylistic experiments thereafter. As only the first chapter in an ongoing series of reunions, reformations and reformats, the group’s first series of albums without question stands as their strongest three-album statement.
The Damned – Machine Gun Etiquette
Elvis Costello and the Attractions – This Year’s Model
Magazine – Real Life
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.