Flat-Pack Philosophy Label: Cooking Vinyl
No one’s ever going to suggest that the Buzzcocks deserve to be in the upper tier of Most Influential British Punk Bands of All Time. Nope, that echelon is pretty well reserved strictly for the Sex Pistols and the Clash. But as far as the second tier…? The ‘Cocks are as solid a lock as the Damned.
Like the Damned, the Buzzcocks continue to be a going concern…but, unlike Vanian, Scabies, and the good Captain, they can actually be arsed to write, record, and release new studio material. (The last Damned album was 2001’s Grave Disorder.) Since reuniting in 1989 after an eight-year hiatus, guitarists/vocalists Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle have been touring on a regular basis and, since 1999’s Get Set, they’ve been putting out a new album every couple of years or so.
2003’s self-titled effort came on the heels of Shelley’s collaboration with fellow Buzzcocks founder Howard Devoto – appropriately called ShelleyDevoto – and even included the first new Shelley/Devoto compositions on a Buzzcocks release in 25 years. It was, in a sense, a new beginning for the old band. Unfortunately, Flat-Pack Philosophy, the first US release for the band on a new label (Cooking Vinyl), finds them taking a step backwards. The good news is that such a step still finds them making solid punk-pop…and since they all but invented the genre, that’s no surprise…but the bad news is that they’re really just treading water.
Of the Shelley songs, “God, What Have I Done” is the one which most demonstrates that Pete isn’t afraid to be a bit quirky. Otherwise, the majority of his material is Buzzcocks by the numbers. Diggle, meanwhile, has a voice which bears a striking resemblance to Paul Weller, and his material is less punk than mainstream pop-rock; still, his song “Big Brother Wheels,” with its almost Teenage Fanclub-sounding backing vocals, is the must-download track from the album. (If you have to pick a Shelley song, go with “I’ve Had Enough.”)
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Flat-Pack Philosophy. It definitely offers fourteen more reasons for fans of the band to sneer and say, “I’d like to see Green Day put out something as good as this in twenty years!” It’s just that, when the album’s come and gone from your stereo, it doesn’t leave much trace…and given how immortal some of the band’s choruses have been in the past, that’s what ultimately makes it a bit of a disappointment.