An essential purchase for anyone remotely interested in punk's history.
Chris Jones 2008-11-07
Manchester's first wave of punk action, almost entirely based around people who'd seen the Pistols appear at the Free Trade Hall, rapidly expanded the range of the genre beyond mere three-chord thrash. While the more cerebral edge of original Buzzcock's singer, Howard Devoto, led to new wave prog and Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner's Joy Division expored Ballardian dystopianism, Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle and co. were to redefine the love song.
While Love Bites - following the excellent Another Music In A Different Kitchen - seemed a little dour and tentative at the time, at the heart lies an urge to finally throw off their past associations and forge something totally their own. The compressed twin guitars, sparse riffs and rumbling toms here reach their apogee. Already Shelley was talking of the past, as if trying to worry at the edges of love's mysteries to explain the inexplicable (Sixteen Again, Nostalgia). Being gay also lent his romanticism a fatalism that made his pleading voice even more affecting. He rejects hedonism (Just Lust) while resolving to remain grounded in realism (Real World), yet he still has room for the absolute power of love (Love You More - not originally on the album but added here). Of course Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)? remains their greatest achievement. The thundering motorik drums of John Maher drive Shelley's missive of faltering affection into all but the hardest of hearts.
The truth was that the band's subsequent success following their biggest hit would be their undoing. After Love Bites the label of 'pop band' began to erode any loftier ambitions (subsequent gigs in larger venues actually saw the band facing screaming girls). A listen to the krautrock-ish rumble of Late For The Train, or the mantra of E.S.P demonstrates how there was far more to the band than just three-minute love songs.
Bolstered by not only contemporaneous singles, radio sessions and demos, but also a whole gig, in its remastered and value-added form, Love Bites now sounds like a far more complete album than it did at the time. Despite some oddly inaccuracy-riddled sleeve noted by Jon Savage, it's an essential purchase for anyone remotely interested in punk's history.