Released in 1982, 'Defective Breakdown' is an album that epitomises the sound of (what we now call) UK82 (or early 80's British punk). Often simplistically dismissed as a mere distillation of the influence of the first wave (Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned, Stranglers, UK Subs), what actually emerges is a much darker, aggressive strand of punk rock.
It's all too appropriate that such an album came from a Belfast band. For while the UK had its fair share of issues, being an "uninvolved" teenager in this country during the late 70's was bound to be a desolate experience.
Formed in the east of the city in 1978, The Defects remain the cornerstone of Belfast punk rock. Although their forefathers The Outcasts, Rudi and Ruefrex mapped out the road and helped build the Belfast punk scene in legendary hotspots like the Harp Bar and The Pound (whereas the success of Stiff Little Fingers and the Undertones helped lay the foundations for the emerging independent scene in the UK), their music was never what could be called 'gritty.' Out of the five bands listed, three were essentially punk-pop acts, one veered towards the artier end of punk and SLF had their supposedly "controversial" lyrics written by their manager.
The Defects outshone them all, purely because their tough, yet melodic sound (influenced by The Ruts and Killing Joke) was hummable enough for the '77 crowd, but hard enough for Exploited/GBH fans. Plus their youth played a big part. These were kids for whom normality was a distant memory. They had grown up in the worst decade for the conflict, and now had the opportunity to vent their frustrations.
Touring England extensively with the Anti Nowhere League on the infamous 'So What' tour (with a bill that also included Chron Gen and Chelsea) as well as supporting anarcho legends Poison Girls in the Anarchy Centre in Belfast (a precursor to Giro's/The Warzone Centre) saw them navigate the fledging divisions between the '77 punks, UK82 lot and the influential anarcho punks, seamlessly integrating themselves with every tribe, purely by being themselves and allowing the music to remain the focus.
Opening with 'Dance', the listener is subjected to a harsh, metallic take on punk rock, with each member competing for prominence in the mix at times. This lends an air of frantic activity to the tune which perfectly compliments the lyrics, which are a snapshot of punks sniffing glue during a show in The Pound.
The opening lines ("Way on down in screaming hell/A place that I see every night...") set the scene with piercing accuracy: the Pound was used as a morgue on Bloody Friday and, to some, the "...familiar faces/Always looking for a fight...Creating anarchy" were subconsciously tapping into the memories of such events, thus evoking a primal lust for life within themselves.
Nice theory, but I much prefer the song. Vocalist Buck (or Thomas Murdock to his mother) delivers the song with a half dismissive sneer, half primal rage.
'20th Century' features a nifty bassline that Gary Smyth inserts throughout t, while warning listeners of the emerging dog eat dog/Thatcherite culture that Britain was embracing around this time. Or is it actually about "The Troubles"? This ambiguity is a bonus and are another reason The Defects remain streets ahead of the likes of Stiff Little Fingers, whose lyrics seemed profound and yet said nothing. The Defects let you make your own mind up without spelling it out for you.
'Survival' is a moody, tribal number with sublime guitar work from Marcus Duke upping the ante in terms of tension. The added chugging for the chorus has the same effect as being knocked out by Prince Naseem in his prime, while the lyrics add to the sense of paranoia and intrigue as a walk in a park ends with a murder and the subject turning their back on the scenario because they're"...the one that matters/Its the age of the fittest" after all.
'Deprived' is a snipe at the punk bands who refused to play Belfast because they're "...only in it for the money/Look round the county/What do you see/Blind to our problems/You don't see." Although seemingly simplistic in 2019, the fact that graffiti appeared in areas of the country proclaiming that The Clash united Catholics and Protestants (until Strummer wore H-Block t-shirts) demonstrates just how vital and keenly felt the music was to a generation.
Instrumental 'Conscription' has a power to it that would level most punk bands, and it segueways beautifully into 'Casualty.' A rant about a two faced acquaintance, it features some tasty licks and evocative chord changes. Both tracks are almost post-punk in their approach, giving the LP a more moody (almost soundtrack) feel than a lot of their contemporaries.
The one-two punch of 'Metal Walls' and 'Thoughts' close the album in spectacular fashion. A high octane number, 'Metal Walls' encourages the listener to feel empowered even though the chorus is "You'll never escape" (some feat, I can tell you) while 'Thoughts' is a downbeat, reflective number which muses on the state of changing relationships with friends and loved ones.
What lets the album down is the non inclusion of live favourite 'Brutality', their hymn to the RUC's treatment of punks. Although not the first punk song to feature the "SS RUC" chant (that would be 'Cops' by Rudi, about the supposed "riot" outside the Ulster Hall when the Clash gig was pulled at the last minute by Belfast City Council), 'Brutality' is the more powerful, owing to the HUGE guitar riff that soars throughout, and the impassioned vocal. When the inevitable happens, the listener is swept along with righteous fury.
This b-side recording (presumably from the same sessions as 'Defective Breakdown') would have slotted in nicely on the album. Interestingly, when the song first appeared on vinyl, Buck claims to have been contacted by An Phoblacht to discuss the subject matter, which he did while making it clear that the song was not a republican one.
Coming out to a rave review from Melody Maker writer (and fellow Belfast native) Carol Clerk, a scathing piece from NME (penned by Belfast's own Gavin Martin) and a middling one from Sounds, 'Defective Breakdown' went straight into the Indie Top 10 in November 1982 without any major radio airplay whatsoever (apart from John Peel at Radio 1).
An unsettling time in this country, with the aftermath of the hunger strike still being felt. The (then) recent murders of Joseph Donegan and Thomas Cochrane were one of many new lows in the conflict (with the peace process that emerged behind the scenes from their deaths kept a secret until 2001). The slaughter at the Droppin' Well bar was only a month away, and the execution of Lenny Murphy provided a brief respite.
In Britain, the country had climbed out of recession and out of the Falklands War. The Conservative government's approval rate had shot up to 44%, while unemployment remained at 3 million.
People left behind by Thatcherism found solace and a place to vent their anger in this music and 'Defective Breakdown' was proof that punk would survive (and thrive) in the face of such bleakness.
Interestingly, the band have stated a few times over the years that they're not fans of the production of 'Defective Breakdown.' Drummer Glenn Kingsmore has said "...personally I was and am disappointed with it. Don't get me wrong, I like the songs...but it never captured the true sound of the band. In a strange way, The Defects were a late first wave punk band caught up in the second wave..."
Obviously, a band will view an album differently than their fan base. And, in this case, it's fair to say that the sound of it is what differentiates it from other albums of that period.
It certainly is the sound of a first wave punk band adapting to the speed and panache of UK82 punk, while still holding onto their initial influences. The tension gives the album a sheen that is unique, and still sounds brilliant today. Rich Walker (Solstice, Sore Throat) regards it as the "...best HC Punk album ever from Ireland. Non stop raging metallic aggression...one of my all time favourites...", while New York "street" punks The Casualties take their name from the song 'Casualty.'
Since reforming in 2010, The Defects have since released a further three album and still tear up the stage live (last year they played to 5000 people supporting Stiff Little Fingers). But their set still features quite a few songs from this album, and quite rightly so.
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.