It has become de rigueur for classic albums to be resurrected and re-evaluated, recontexualised in exercises of nostalgic trips down Memory Lane. Not the Men In Black. Having resolutely remained together and continued to produce new material, they are not defined and confined by their past like other bands; this recollection is also an opportunity to breathe new life into less established songs.
Black and white, light and shade, night and day, good and bad, no grey areas, the four-piece set against the bright white stage, monochromatic and magnificent: Burnel, Greenfield, Warne (minus drummer Jet Black since last year, drum stool occupied by Jim) Macaulay.
Black And White from 1978 was the quartet’s first album comprised of new material, not fragments (re)shaped from 1974 – 1977. The album is a sonic document of the austere climate of a year that was to culminate in the ‘Winter Of Discontent’ and an articulation of how earlier success was followed by a backlash, a show of strength in the face of criticism and antagonism, responding to accusations of misogyny and violence by writing misogynistic and violent songs. Interpret that!
Entering as always to the greatest intro ever – the haunting carousel ‘Waltzin’ Black’ – they launch at breakneck pace through an experimental album that addresses esoterica, technology, alienation, paranoia and identity arguably creating “post-punk”, their influence later evident in Gang Of Four and Joy Division.
Opener ‘Tank’ is a jibe at the (al)lure of the armed forces, the career path for the recipients of the Monarch’s shilling, bidding Imperial wars of territorial attrition. ‘Sweden’ is based on former singer Hugh Cornwell’s time in Sweden in the early ’70s, the ennui of the remote expanse: “too much time too little to do” and also the band’s altercation with the “raggare” (Swedish youth group).
The onomatopoeic ‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’, the filthiest gutter thump imaginable, cascades imperiously, detailing the band’s hook-up and shakedown with Amsterdam’s Hell’s Angels. Without pause the tracks pound on: The prescient ‘Hey! Rise Of The Robots’ with its ominous warning of sentient machines devoid of compassion or emotion, tech-addicted drones of “Metal fashioned into man, no ticker I could drop a tear”, man as machine and vice versa, prophesy and fears realised.
‘Death And Night And Blood (Yukio)’ is an example of Burnel’s cerebral eye; the tale of the contradictory Japanese Yukio Mishima, a married homosexual who after forming his own “defense force” took on the army, a decision that ended in his suicide. It’s certainly far from the gibberish of Coldplay or Gallagher’s nonesens-ory overload.
The LP closes with ‘Enough Time’, its Morse Code climax decoded as SOS. This is planet Earth. We are fucked. Please advise evidence of their belief in extra-terrestrial life as there must be more than “this”. Bacharach and David’s ‘Walk On By’ – complemented by the four pronged solo section featuring Greenfield’s ‘Light My Fire’ referencing organ-gasp – is greeted rapturously.
Minimal flab-chat is followed by a greatest hits/forgotten masterpieces, ‘Mercury Rising’ from 2012’s Giants, ‘I’ve Been Wild’ from 2004’s Norfolk Coast before the diptych of the incendiary ‘Nuclear Device’ merges into the blitzkrieg of ‘5 Minutes’. Never ones to entirely conform to expectations, the inflammatory identity crisis that is ‘(I Feel Like A) Wog’ crashes in. Burnel’s autobiographical tale of being “other” due to his Gallic roots, his struggles with assimilation and “their” issues of acceptance.
The encore builds towards the timeless ‘No More Heroes’, bookending this visceral performance. Literate, inveterate and irreverent: often imitated, never bettered.
Featured Images: Warren Meadows