Sound Of The Suburbs

The Members’ first album gets a review in the NME, April 7, 1979. Along with the Ruts, The Clash etc, The Members were adding a decent dollop of reggae to their punk. The album was a big fave of mine, still is, and contains the track the blog is named after.

Sounds of the Suburbs: scorn or sadism?

The Members
At The Chelsea Nightclub
(Virgin)

The Members – an everyday story of Camberley folk starring cuddly ugly Nicky Tesco, dealer in trite stereo-types and women’s magazine cliches, harmless and humourous as a rock’n’roll Mrs Dale ought to be.
Open the diary, they’re all there: ‘Sally’, the local kid made good who gets disfigured in a car crash – the awful fate awaiting all jet set models; ‘Soho-A-Go-Go’, where you meet soulless women who will destroy your soul – another awful fate for would be thrill-seekers; ‘Solitary Confinement’, the lonely bedsit awaiting all those who fall for the lure of London’s tinsel; ‘Frustrated Bagshot’, the jerk who jerks off in the darkness alone – the awful fate awaiting hung-up porn-mag consumers; ‘Phone-In Show’, where Samaritan cases discover the awful fate awaiting innocents who put themselves in the hands of contemptuous radio demagogues; ‘Chelsea Nightclub’, where the posers meet their lonely fate…
‘The Sound Of The Suburbs’ indeed – a fistful of cautionary tales like your mother used to tell, only Nicky tells ’em better.
The album opens with a little Members dub called ‘Electricity’ by rhythm guitarist Jean-Marie Carroll, which shows off their blending of reggae and rock to far greater effect than the new single ‘Offshore Banking Business’ (not included here, incidently – which is sensible, because it would be a complete sore thumb. I can understand Julie Burchill labelling it “white kids proving they don’t dislike balcks” – Tesco shouldn’t ever drop his Sarf London accent, either for awkward sincerity or pseudo-West Indian, both of which rub shoulders on the single)
‘Electricity’, though, is really good – atmospheric blips over an attractive bass riff alternating with some excellent rock guitar from Nigel Bennett, expertly produced by drummer Adrian Lillywhite’s brother Steve. The Members display a fluent, sinuous side previously unrecorded.
That segues (as us bar-proppers say) into ‘Sally’, a terse rocker spliced with a neat reggae chorus: “Everybody’s got a daydream…” and Sally’s modelling dream winds up in the whorehouse – possibly a comment upon people who sell their bodies (a parallel the song does draw), but couched in yer traditional paperback romance gruesome warning style. Written, incidentally, by the band’s ex-guitarist Gary Baker.
Next up is Nicky Tesco and bassist Chris Payne’s tour of Dean Street’s massage parlours, ‘Soho-A-Go-Go’ – another fierce hard rock songreplete with police messages over the lead break, tesco warning the vice kings to “clean up your state of mental health”. As always, the construction is perfect, finely judged climaxes a-go-go (so to speak), with tesco chucking in some great Joey Ramonisms en route.
‘Don’t Push’, more Cossack than Rasta, is a longtime stage highlight. Again, it’s suprisingly powerful, Bennett yanking it along with abrasive guitar.
‘Solitary Confinement’ should be the side’s crowning glory – it’s a brilliant song – but instead of keeping to the point, which is quite ornate enough as it is, they drag it out into a dreadful jam at the end an rather piss it away. Still, who else could carry off that exquisite moment when the tragic chant “On your own/ By yourself/ On your own/ By yourself” twists evilly into “Buy yourself this record”?
‘Frustrated bagshot’ opens the second side on a real low. As if the dreader watery slide guitar wasn’t bad enough, the song paints a vicious picture of sexual frustration, machismo mockery of the ‘afflicted’ – a theme repeated more sympathetically in the one completely ‘straight’ reggae song ‘Stand Up And Spit’, which is strangely reminiscent of XTC’s ‘My Weapon’.
‘The Sound Of The Suburbs’, as any fule kno, is a masterpiece, from the rabid illustration of Johnny annoying the neighbours with his punk rock electric guitar, to the woman next door who hasn’t left her house since her husband died. Its confidence and sheer compositional flair rub off on the whole album.
‘Phone-In Show’ brings back the doubts: another skilfully drawn song, but although they put down the vicarious nature of phone-ins – “Cheap entertainment/ Phone-in show/ Five minutes of glib advice/ When you’ve got nowhere left to go” – they seem to portray the guy who phones in with his hang-up with venomous glee. Hopefully I’m being unfair to them and their concern to put life’s losers in the harshest possible light is out of sympathy rather than sadism.
‘Love In A Lift’ is a good lop-sided reggae rock throwaway, and the wrap-up comes live from Hammersmith Odeon with the ‘My Generation’ mutation ‘Chelsea Nightclub’, featuring Tesco looking for the toilet in the midst of the chaos.
Before I heard this album I’d tagged The Members as a good nght out, a band with more enthusiasm than technique despite some of the best lyrics currently on view and a couple of classic singles. Don’t let the good buncha lads front fool you – they know what they’re doing. The most suprising thing about ‘At The Chelsea Nightclub’ is how painstakingly it’s been assembled. Each track literally overflows with little tricks and subtleties.
Whether they’re trapped in sweet suburbia remains to be seen – certainly the awkward gestures of ‘Offshore Banking Business’are not the way out.
And as for the occaisonal ideological slips, just put it down to the sad fact that rock’n’roll stars, unlike rock journalists of course, are not omniscient.

Phil McNeil

Poet Dominique Dunne with the NME and Nicky Tesco on the cover.
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