Late to the Buzzcocks camp, I was the fan who knew of the band's impact long before I ever heard "Orgasm Addict" and thus the fan who wonders why the band would bother to hijack its way back into '90s consciousness. The band's original sound is so pristinely punchy, such a watertight time capsule of three-chord glory, that to resurrect it in the form of middle-age Brits taking the stage 20 years on seems criminal. I'd much rather salute the Buzzcocks' frenetic and melodic gravestone than be forced to reckon with a ravaged corpse of a live set list; there's no way to make "Ever Fallen in Love" as throttling as it had once been as played by the skinny, volatile foursome, led by glory-brat Pete Shelley and guitar wingman Steve Diggle.
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Yet, Manchester's Buzzcocks were one of the last great singles bands out of post-punk England, when a full-length album wasn't nearly as important as its sporadically released parts. Thus, for the Buzzcocks (and the best cross-section of their canon is captured on the compilation Singles Going Steady), live shows might come easy. It's not so much about building atmospheric momentum -- what most bands today must do onstage to impress an album-obsessed audience -- as deliver bullet upon bullet of old favorites. The sounds and memories start over every three minutes, thrilling the attention-deficient and nostalgic alike, and even a bunch of pickled forty-somethings can pull off that kind of show, right?
The real hang-up here is twofold. For starters, the band has a fistful of new songs, as evident on its new release Modern, with which they will inevitably and insidiously bastardize the set. And the new songs sound, of course, like watered-down versions of their older, better songs. Egad. Old guys not only trying to convince an audience of the endurance of grand old singles, but also to convince them that spitting ire and whiney, punky angst can carry the band into a new phase of success. There's nothing more hollow and pathetic than grown men with beer bellies and crow's-feet trying to recapture their youth with, uh, new rehash.
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Ah, well. For those of us latecomers, sitting through a few patience-trying new tunes and overlooking beer bellies might be worth it. When the group launches into "Orgasm Addict," just close your eyes, picture them two decades younger, and soak up the microwaved glory of a great singles band.