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For me, one of the very best bands to have emerged from the punk era, albeit a little later than others such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols, was The Ruts.
In their original personnel lineup, they recorded two 'proper' albums in 1979/1980 (The Crack and Grin & Bear It), and later Something That I Said was released as an album, it being a kind of a merging of the two previous albums.
What I admire about The Ruts more than anything (again referring to their original lineup) was their pure energy, the largely socially conscious songs they wrote and performed, not to mention their unique and very skilful musicianship. Drummer Dave Ruffy is one of the very best drummers I've ever heard, consistently performing a prominent, very high-powered punk style rhythm with a dexterity that's second to none in the rock and pop world.
The band was very active in the area of anti-racism, and this is reflected in some of their songs - all of their material was written by various members of the band.
Many of the words of The Ruts' songs are subtle and clever; socially conscious, and as well as the anti-racist offerings, there were also a couple of anti-drugs songs - very subtly worded, in that they had a kind of a double-edged meaning; apart from the infamous H Eyes, the words of the songs could be interpreted in more than one way.
Sadly, Malcolm Owen (lead singer) was a heroin addict - this can be heard quite clearly in his vocals, in that as brilliant a singer as he was, he possessed that somewhat strained, slightly husky voice which often is characteristic of a heroin junkie. Malcolm died of a heroin overdose in July of 1980, just as the band were climbing up the ladder of fame, and though they did produce a couple of albums after his death, interest in the band waned without Malcolm at the forefront.
I shall do my usual track-by-track review, which if it's not your scene you can ignore. I haven't awarded any marks out of ten, as for me they all get a resounding 10/10, except for Backbiter - which clocks up an 8/10.
1. IN A RUT
A very cleverly worded song, in that it can apply to generally being in a rut in life, offering the advice that you have to get out of it. Does the phrase "get out of it" mean in the sense of merely getting out of the rut, or does it mean you have to take your own life (there are a couple of references to suicide in the song) or does it mean that you have to "get out of it" drugs-wise? Another interpretation of this song could be that the rut is heroin addiction, which must be got out of. It's up to the listener to make up their own mind I suppose. However the words are interpreted, they are tinged with desperation and a sense of hopelessness, all backed up by a very tight performance by the band - there's a lot going on musically, and the song takes some interesting twists and turns. It's not just bang bang bang driving punk....there are lots of changes in tune, rhythm, chord sequence and tempo.
2. H EYES
This is an extremely down to earth, hard-hitting and honest song warning everybody (particularly the young) off of heroin use. Fast, pure punk and high-energy, the words are blatant, honest, brutal and raw, all backed up by some incredible musicianship, particularly from the drummer and lead guitarist. The 'F' word is mentioned quite a lot in this song, and regardless of whether anyone likes its presence or not, it assists greatly in getting the powerful message of the song across. This has to be the greatest, most direct and graphic anti-drugs song ever written. The last note of the song is very clever, as it takes the word 'dead', puts it through some kind of synthesizing equipment, and the word evolves into the letter/word 'H'.
3. BABYLON'S BURNING
Beginning with a police car siren, the song launches into an energetic, loud punk song which packs plenty of punches. The song appears to be about race riots in Britain's inner city ghettos - I'm not sure if it's referring to one in particular, or race riots in general. The words draw attention to the tensions which at the time were rife in our inner cities, and was very prophetic for the times. Not too long after this track was released as a single, the Brixton and Toxteth riots happened. Another masterful piece of pure punk, which runs straight into the next track with no gap in between.
4. DOPE FOR GUNS
This song was a warning to anyone involved in illegal drug use back in the late 1970s/early 1980s - anyone who had a social conscience - telling the truth behind where their drugs really came from, how money paid to buy recreational drugs was used to fund wars, terrorism and other undesirable things. This too is a very high-energy punk track with wonderful instrumentals.
Back in the days when this song was written, there was a lot of controversy about the S.U.S laws, and the words herein describe a scenario of being arrested under S.U.S. This is slightly slower than the other four tracks above, riddled with a dark angst, and has a wonderful, drifting sort of guitar break in the middle.
6. SOMETHING THAT I SAID
This opens with a very interesting guitar riff, and like most of the tracks on this album, is pure punk, exuding raw energy. It's one of The Ruts' songs that I'm not entirely sure what it's supposed to be about....several different interpretations could be put onto the words. Though I could be wrong, I have a feeling it's somewhat of a snipe, directed at people who view themselves as being superior others. Clock the drumming on this track, as it's truly incredible; so is the lead guitar!
7. YOU'RE JUST A......
I believe the subject matter of this song could be similar to the last one - sticking up a couple of fingers towards those who are rather up themselves, protesting at being seen as nothing by those with upturned noses who think they are everything. The tune of this song takes some very interesting twists and turns, with a gorgeously wild, very intricate guitar break in the middle. Pure, raw, unadulterated punk at its very best - driving, hard-hitting and magical.
8. IT WAS COLD
We slow the pace down quite a bit for this rather eerie track, which runs on directly from the previous track. The opening is a few chilling notes played quietly on a bass guitar, while the wild guitar from the last track gradually fades out. Even though this song is slow, it's not quiet, and still has a strong punkish sound with lots going on instrumentally. The words take us through a cold, dark night where it's difficult to work out if it's about maybe a kind of inner city gang warfare situation - or, something even more sinister....the bomb just having dropped! Maybe it's a bit of both, correlating each of those scenarios up against one another. Being as this was written and recorded during the times when everybody was anxious about nuclear stockpiling, the bomb dropping connotation is very feasible, especially as at the end of the song, there is a huge synthesized explosion noise - not that of a conventional bomb, but one of something nuclear. The song ends completely with a quiet return of the main words from In A Rut (described above), with the sound of a howling wind - the windrush after the bomb??? A very cleverly crafted song.
9. SAVAGE CIRCLE
More punk punk punk here! It's not too easy to work out what this song is about as a lot of the words are indistinguishable, but I believe it's an attack on society in general as regards the way youth at the time was viewed. In the middle, there is a wonderful guitar piece which is sort of stadium rock style mixed even with a slight psychedelic sound, tinged with a strong punk influence. The band are so very in sync with one another as they belt and blast out this rather mysterious song which seems to jump from one style to another throughout, yet all blending perfectly, ending up with hardcore punk as the track abruptly grinds to a halt.
10. JAH WAR
This track is very different to all the others on the album, as it's pure reggae and gentle in its approach. The words describe inner city racial violence, and tensions rising between black and white gangs, spilling over into riot as the police are called and arrive. During the very tense times in society during the early 1980s, there was a lot of controversy regarding the black population of our inner cities being unfairly singled out by police for arrest. It was also alleged (and in a few cases proved) that a small handful of police were being very heavy handed with unnecessary violence, particularly upon the black community. This song is all about that, and regardless of whether anyone sympathises with the words or not, it's a great piece of skilfully presented reggae.
11. CRIMINAL MIND
Now this is fast, furious, noisy, yet not (to my ear) cacophonous. The words of the song are largely in support of youth being allowed to develop in their own way, without necessarily having to be seen as yobs and criminals. It must be remembered that back in those days, youth was quite different to it is now, and the words of the song has no meaning if you try to align it to the modern world of the darker side of young people. Just a short track - I believe less than a minute in length, but gets the message across hard and clear.
This is a song aimed at those obsessed with cash, possessions, materialism - those who'll go to any lengths to use and abuse others to feather their own nests. There is a mood of high angst in the song, and the words are delivered with a degree of anger. As far as the musical content is concerned, it's my least favourite track on the album - it's still extremely good though.
13. OUT OF ORDER
Another fast and furious pure punk song which can be interpreted in several different ways. Listening to the words, they could be an observation on mindless yobs who waste their lives, or they could be about those who rely on illegal drugs to inject some entertainment into their daily existence - maybe a mixture of both those things! As with many other tracks on this album, the drumming is unbelievably superb.
14. HUMAN PUNK
This is a track taken from a Ruts live performance and before the music starts, Malcolm Owen speaks to the audience, using a few Anglo-Saxon expletives (but good-naturedly) to describe how he feels the band's performance up to that moment wasn't as good as it should have been, and he expresses that this time they're "gonna f***ing do it", then the whole band launches into an explosive wall of sound that is just solid punk music, how it should be at its core. Malcolm then draws the audience into the 'you're a human punk' chant which runs through and largely constitutes the words of the song. That all sounds very yobbish and unintelligent, but it isn't when heard in context - and, the instrumental ability of the band on this track is pure perfection.
15. STARING AT THE RUDE BOYS
This is probably (together with no.17 below) the best known of all The Ruts' tracks. It's a unique idea for a song, whereby it describes an evening at a club where punks, skinheads and black youths (the 'rude boys') hang out, and how each group refuses to mingle with the others, then all hell breaks loose as the 'fascists' (as they are called in the song - that's not my description) begin attacking the 'rude boys'. A wonderful piece of socially-conscious punk musical history.
16. LOVE IN VAIN
This is a quiet reggae track, very melancholy and sad - perhaps quiet, hopeless frustration could be a better way of describing the mood of the song. The words could be interpreted two ways; firstly some may see it as a romance going on ('don't want you in my arms no more, 'cos it's hurting like it did before'), and secondly, the trials and tribulations of a heroin addict who wants to quit ('don't want you in my arms no more') but can't for the time being find a pathway out of his habit. Then comes a point in the song where he's clean....and he looks back on where he's been with a fondness, yet states that he doesn't want 'it' back again. The title is also a word play on both of those interpretations, but apparently the reality of the song is that it's about heroin addiction, not romance.
17. WEST ONE (SHINE ON ME)
I wrote a review the other day on Mike Leigh's 'Naked' film, and though that film was made a decade after this song was written, I often align the two together. This is a song about the desolation of the seedier part of London's street life - out in the cold, out alone, street lights shining on wet pavements, roaming the streets getting in and out of trouble, on the hunt for fun, drugs, kicks, yet finding none of them - just stranded, with no way home, lost in the dark. The sound of this track is quite punkish, but the quiet sax in the background almost gives it a Bruce Springsteen sort of feel in parts. A very well-written song that not only describes London's street life at night perfectly with the words - it also gets the feel of somewhere like the Tottenham Court Road area in the early hours of a cold winter's morning.
This isn't just another punk album....it's a collection of intelligent, excellent songs, very well written and performed mostly in punk style by a band who are also superb musicians. Even those who are music lovers yet not into punk, I'm sure you'd appreciate the sheer mesmerising skill of this polished band.
I find it very sad that The Ruts didn't (most likely due to Malcom Owen's death) didn't progress to greater things, as when he lost his battle with heroin addiction, I feel they lost their energy and their light.
This is a comprehensive and complete selection of The Ruts' early and best loved work, kind of like a 'best of'. The only complaint I have about this particular album (bearing in mind as I said way up above that it's a merging of their first two albums), is that I feel the tracks are placed in a bad order. I think it would have been a lot better to arrange them chronologically, as that way, they would almost tell a story and there would thus be a sense of completeness.
Something That I Said (the album) can be bought on Amazon as follows:-
- Despatched and sold by Amazon, with gift-wrap available if requested, for £7.79. It's not clear if the gift-wrap, if requested, is included in that price. Currently (18.8.09) there is only one copy left in stock, but Amazon expect to have more copies available for sale very soon.
- New: Prices range from £3.57 right up to a staggering £73.93!
- Used: From £1.13 to an (in my opinion unnecessary) £38.45
The whole album can also be downloaded from the Amazon Downloads Store for a price of £7.79.
All the tracks from the album can be listened to individually on last.fm/music completely free.
Thanks for reading!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 In A Rut
2 H Eyes
3 Babylon's Burning
4 Dope For Guns
6 Something That I Said
7 You're Just A...
8 It Was Cold
9 Savage Circle
10 Jah War
11 Criminal Mind
13 Out Of Order
14 Human Punk
15 Staring At The Rude Boys
16 Love In Vain
17 West One (Shine On Me)