Paul Morley sucked the fun out of punk long before he became ‘the cultural commentator Paul Morley’ sucking the fun out of nostalgia TV. He reviewed Killing Joke’s first album along with the Cockney Rejects second in the NME, 25 October, 1980.
Killing Joke (Malicious Damage/EG Records)
Greatest Hits Vol II (EMI)
Here are some young boys sneezing, wheezing, excreting. Where have they been? Where do they come from? The Cockney Rejects tap the baddest taste of their punk mentors (Sham, the Friggin’ Sex Pistols) and exhaust it with breathtaking short-sightedness. Killing Joke are trapped inside a diseased John Lydon/Hugh Cornwell nightmare, doing their cross-eyed best to affect malevolence and translate the bane and dread of PiL into something scrumptiously decomposed and very much their own.
Neither group engages my sympathy. Early-morning emptiness makes me see a point or two in Killing Joke’s conventionally barren music-scape. Nothing lets me in to the secret of how to teeter into the bog with Cockney Rejects.
Two ways of seeing ‘punk’; as dogma or a sense of adventure, Rejects are strangled by dogma: Killing Joke baffled by the possibilities of experiment. The two LPs give credence to the theory that ‘punk’ was just a moderate bump in the history of American rock music, a soft jab in the music industry’s face.
For the Rejects, punk is a licence to scatologically bare their priceless backsides on their glossy album cover, take soiled chants from the terraces into the expensive recording studios, let loose defective egos on the ‘world’. Killing Joke have sluggishly exploited the opportunities post-punk endeavour has offered them to fiddle about with sound and form, to wallow in horror pools of corruption and degeneration.
Like the next person, I have a certain taste for stupidity, but neither of these records stimulate that in the way I want it stimulated. Cockney Rejects are sprightly loony-teen pop prats, Killing Joke are fusty champions of the new underground – well in with the moderns, this lot, but not me chum – and both go through the motions: they’re well-mannered for all their cover of revolt or subversion.
We live in sick times: Cockney Rejects and Killing Joke seem to be part of the problem rather than sceptics or cynics.
Killing Joke’s peaky, broken-winded, meandering songs would actually form a better Ballardian soundtrack than Numan of Foxx, but ultimately the songs lack fierce introverted intensity or harrowing lust just as much as the synth-kids. They ladenly, sub-statically dribble along sounding more blank than terror-filled, forming a sullen, spasmodically wildish soundtrack for impending catastrophe that lacks a necessary sense of calm or disorientating inner tension.
Killing Joke are parasites sucking all the goodness out of important musics. Graceless. A poor joke.
Killing Joke song titles: ‘Requiem’, ‘War Dance’, ‘Tomorrow’s World’, ‘Complication’ (Foreigner playing Stranglers) ‘Primitive’. To another blotchy mix of comedy and tragedy. Cockney Rejects song titles: ‘War On The Terraces’, ‘Hate Of The City’, ‘Urban Guerilla’, ‘The Greatest Cockney Rip Off’, even ‘The Rocker’.
They even do Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’ – this group don’t try as hard as Killing Joke not to be nostalgic. In fact they don’t try at all to be anything but vacantly, even cheekily, wild.
They come on like scolded Just Williams and sound like scalded dogs. Fourteen songs are spewed out that will abuse the souls and desires of their listeners with as much hypocritical crudeness and puritanical, jingoistic zeal as the Daily Star abuses its readers. If the Daily Star broke through its ludicrous cover of righteousness and owned up to the exploitative forces that drive it on, it would adopt Cockney Rejects as its pets and use them in its TV adverts along side Arthur Mullard.
These LPs emphasise that rock languages are repressive; they do nothing to indicate that music can also open up.