Progression: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Stay still and watch your fan base slowly dwindle with each release. Fumble the ball when trying something new and find yourself playing to no one. And normally, it’s ones who kick things off that make the missteps that later generations know to avoid.
This 4 CD box set is a testament to how difficult it can be: Thanks to the release of the documentary ‘East End Babylon’, the Cockney Rejects are being rightfully reappraised by a media that lumped them in with right wing skinheads. Helping to give birth to the Oi scene and producing two of the greatest punk LPs of all time (as well as the greatest live punk release), their hard as nails (yet terrace friendly) riffs and massive choruses. If you can listen to anthems like ‘Bad Man’ and ‘Oi!Oi!Oi!’ without feeling like you can put your fist through a brick wall, you’re dead inside.
Obviously, this wasn’t enough for the Cockney Rejects. Jeff ‘Stinky’ Turner and Micky Geggus always had firm roots in classic rock/metal (check out the opening lick on ‘Bad Man’ for proof), so it was only natural they wanted to move in that direction.
However, I suspect that another reason for this was down to the bad rep that Oi was getting in the press at the time (notoriously, the ‘Strength Through Oi!’ comp had Nicky Crane on the cover) and the Southall riot (where an Oi concert was attacked by a gang who believed, incorrectly, that the bands on the bill were associated with the NF) furthered their determination to move away from their traditional sound.
The first album in the classic rock style, 1981′s ‘The Power and the Glory’, was a lightweight attempt at sounding like UFO. Although songs like ‘On the Run’ became live classics, the record instantly alienated 3/4′s of their audience and led to the band being thrown off EMI.
They bounced back a year later with ‘The Wild Ones’ (the first album in this box set).
Although still carrying on with the UFO worship, what’s evident from opener ‘Way of the Rocker’ is just how more accomplished the music is. They’d thrown caution to the wind and fully indulged their rock dreams. Some of the best galloping riffs since ‘Lights Out’, and solos reminiscent of Thin Lizzy are evident on tracks like ‘Victim of the Cheap Wine’ and ‘Let Me Rock You.’ Production from none other than Pete Way gives the songs a dirtier edge than ‘The Power and the Glory’, and clearly made the Rejects up their game in the studio. It really is the best album UFO have never written. Highly recommended.
1984′s ‘Quiet Storm’ cannot be recommended at all.
An awful attempt to recreate the bluesy rock of Free and Cream, it suffers from horrendous mid 80′s production (gated drums, unnecessary use of synths) and ambitious but rubbish song writing. It’s no wonder this came out under the name of The Rejects, as it’s so far removed from ‘The Wild Ones’ (let alone the first two Cockney Rejects LP’s). No redeeming features whatsoever. Even the cover looks like a Dire Straits pastiche. A massive mistake.
1990′s ‘Lethal’ is a massive improvement. Sounding like AC/DC with Bon Joviesque choruses, ‘Bad Man Down’ sets the agenda. The galloping riffs are back and put to devastating effect in ‘Penitentiary.’ A song that Motley Crue would kill for. Cracking solo from Geggus as well. ‘Struttin’ My Stuff’ is the best song on here on account of the headbanger friendly riff and hilarious lyrics (I highly doubt Stinky Turner has ever drunk champagne, let alone had a Jacuzzi). The obligatory “sensitive” moment come in the form of ‘Rough Diamond.’ Beginning with an acoustic strum, it builds to a typical 80′s power ballad chorus with sweet keyboard and guitar solos. Turner’s vocals (which bear more than a passing resemblance to Brian Johnston on this album) give the song a rougher and slightly tongue in cheek feel.
Fourth disc, ‘Nathan’s Pies and Eels’ is a rarities disc. 8 of the 12 songs date from the band’s reunion onwards. As you’d expect, it’s made up of songs that weren’t good enough to make it onto the studio albums and listening to them it’s often obvious why: most of them are non-descript. ‘The Toughest Choice (I Ever Made)’ sounds like Def Leppard if they were former skinheads. ‘It’s Up to You’ has a choppy riff, but an utterly banal chorus and a middle eight made up of Euro trance keyboards. One for dedicated fans only, even with an appearance from Steve Marriott (Humble Pie/Small Faces).
Not surprisingly, none of these studio LPs sold when initially released. Progression, in the case of the Rejects, brought ridicule from their traditional fan base and dismissal from metallers as well as an unofficial ban from record shops selling their albums (owing to Southall). But listening to these albums without referring to the back catalogue and you’ll wonder why you’ve overlooked them for so long. In retrospect, and approached as straight up rock/metal albums, they are exciting and well written LP’s (with the exception of Quiet Storm). Play them at any rock/metal night and they’ll go down a storm. This box set is an interesting anomaly from a time when punk bands were struggling to incorporate metal into the sound (while the Rejects peers GBH and The Exploited pulled it off with aplomb). At the time it was deemed suicidal but, arguably, they helped lay the foundations for crossover by being one of the first punk bands to go metal. Fans of 70′s rock and hair metal will enjoy this release. Join the Rejects and be part of the Greatest Cockney Rip Off. \
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.