Mixes the social anger and despair of the era with a radio-friendly rock sound.
David Quantick 2010-06-01
There are records that you buy intending to love, and there are records that you don’t buy but find out that you love. Power in the Darkness, for me, falls into that second category. I didn’t own it when it came out in 1978, but I didn’t have to – it was everywhere, from friends’ homes to Radio 1, the Whistle Test to school, from NME to the local rock venue.
These days Tom Robinson is a well-spoken and well-loved BBC DJ, but at the height of punk he was possibly one of the most popular rock stars in the country, loved by radio for the classic drive single 2-4-6-8 Motorway, loved by students for his passionate politics, and banned from Radio 1 with the bitter, hilarious and angry (Sing If You’re) Glad to Be Gay.
Power in the Darkness works because it’s one of the only records of the time – some Elvis Costello aside, possibly – to both have the social anger and despair of the era and a radio-friendly rock sound. Later gay performers would look to dance music for inspiration, while political acts would go back to American and English roots music; but TRB revelled in their organ- and guitar-led AOR rock sympathies. (Grey Cortina even mentions “Brucie Springsteen” playing on the radio, something even The Clash would have baulked at.) There are guitar solos, moody breakdowns and – in the case of songs like 2-4-6-8 Motorway and the utterly superb Up Against the Wall (Robinson’s best and truest punk rocker) – riffs which even Springsteen should have envied.
Power in the Darkness – perhaps because of its excellent production, perhaps because of Robinson’s mixture of passion and song craft – holds up well in Tom’s 60th year. Political types will point out that the bleak visions of The Winter of ‘79 and Better Decide Which Side You’re On still have relevance, while song fans have always concurred with Ray Davies (who signed Robinson to his publishing company, and who is the subject of his bitter Don’t Take No for an Answer) that Robinson was, and is, able to produce superb songs like the oddly-Kinksy Too Good to Be True. All in all, this is something of a classic. Happy birthday, Tom!