Various Artists - Dirty Water 2: More Birth of Punk Attitude

by Al Brown Rating:7 Release Date:2011-03-28

This is the second volume of music that veteran rock-journo Kris Needs considers 'punk' in some way, and like the first, there's a mixture of well-known and obscure cuts from an impressive spectrum of genres. The rock'n'roll picks this time are 'Headin' for the Poorhouse' by The Silhouettes, 'Hey! Bo Diddley' by Bo Diddley and 'C'mon Everybody' by Eddie Cochran. The easy-going doo-wop of 'Headin' for the Poorhouse' is in nice contrast to its sombre subject matter, the other two songs are rock'n'roll standards. Bo Diddley is one of the acknowledged forefathers of punk thanks to his stripped down, repetitious approach, but how well these fusty old bangers stand up today is likely to vary from listener to listener. There's also a cover of Diddley's 'Roadrunner' by Stackwaddy, a Manchester R&B outfit who, by the sounds of it, were into Screamin' Jay Hawkins and mind expanding substances. But really, if there's a worse genre of music than white British potheads 'doing' heavy R&B and blues covers then don't tell me about it, I'm depressed enough already. While we're talking covers, the Hammersmith Gorillas' version of The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' has none of the vim of the original.

As with volume one there's a scattering of gems to discover here. There's something vaguely Talking Heads about 'Rough Kids' by Kilburn & The High Roads which extends beyond singer Ian Dury's remarkable Byrne-esque timbre. Perpetual underdog John Otway's 'Beware of the Flowers' pulls off that rare trick of being both very funny and a truly rocking tune - when he slurs (to his band, presumably): "Okay, let's make this the big one for Otway!" it's impossible not to crack a smile. Patti Smith's production-line-poetry 'Piss Factory' is awe-inspiring: there is no-one in this world more real than Patti Smith - she embodies and transcends punk. Jayne County's straight-to-the-point 'Man Enough to Be a Woman' is similarly rousing: confronting prejudice head-on in a way that today's artists are far too ironic (or stupid, or lazy) to bother with.

However, it's the left-field picks that really make this comp: The unmistakeable jazz-punk sax of Albert Ayler; the weird (but weirdly affecting) medieval gospel of 'Oh Lord, Why Lord' by Parliament and Faust chugging merrily through 'It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl'. Each of these tracks could lead the listener into totally new fields of musical discovery, which can only be a good thing. 'MPLA' by Tapper Zukie and 'Police and Thieves' by Junior Murvin are both great reggae tracks; slyly combining blissful grooves with hard socio-political messages.

Bob Dylan's hero Woody Guthrie sounds as honest and warm as ever on 'Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad'; As great as punk rock is, it's hard to beat the impact of a lyric like "They say I'm a dust bowl refugee/ Lord, Lord/ And I ain't gon' be treated this way", from someone who has actually experienced true hardship.

It might seem strange to question Kris Needs' suitability for the job of compiling these discs, but nobody's perfect. His knowledge of the scene, having been a journalist right in the centre of the first wave of punk, is huge. But perhaps he's too close to that centre to have genuinely great perspective. Whereas the non-punk picks are inspired, and the inclusion of The Velvets and Blondie arguably a necessity; many of the less well known punk-era tracks fail to excite. One has to wonder if Needs' love of, say, Mott the Hoople, or The Hammersmith Gorillas, comes from a reasoned appreciation of their back catalogue, or whether he simply saw them play a couple of incendiary gigs back in the day and the pleasant memories have clouded his judgement.

Worse than that, it's pretty difficult to defend a guy who puts his own short-lived band on a commercially available compilation, as happens here with The Vice Creems' 'Danger Love'. None of the tracks I'm referring to are actually terrible, but (and you can include 60s garage cuts by The Misunderstood, The Zakary Thaks,The Tidal Waves and Unrelated Segments in this) while they doubtless sounded vital at the time, they sound undistinguished now.

Despite this criticism, Needs' view of what punk can be is interesting and thoughtful and the more obvious cuts are tasteful (give me Blondie over The Damned any day of the week). These discs are certainly a cut above the safety-pin adorned two-cassette packs that were a staple of my teenage years. Dude had a good article about The Ramones in last month's Mojo too.

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