Postpunk Chronicles: Going Underground
Postpunk Chronicles: Left Of The Dial
PopMatters Editor & Publisher
Following the fury and brevity of punk, a more diverse, artsy, and darker genre developed—post-punk. Sharing the disgust with 1970s overblown prog-rock pomposity that helped drive the growth of punk, post-punk was the music of punk’s “morning after.” Put it this way, without post-punk, there would have been no Nirvana and no Radiohead. I can’t imagine Radiohead without the previous cinematic paranoid fantasies of Howard Devoto and his criminally underappreciated group Magazine. Heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, and the Stooges, very early post-punk was characterized by its relatively uniform doom and gloom sound, though later post-punk moved away from that singular approach and became quite diverse.
Attempting to document the diversity of the post-punk musical scene in the U.K. and the U.S., Postpunk Chronicles gathers 48 tracks from the late 70s and early 80s. Thematically, there’s not much difference between the three volumes—all sharing some avant-rock, noise-pop, jangle-pop, and early new wave material.
Scared To Dance has the heaviest concentration of early new wave songs: Heaven 17’s slightly preposterous “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang,” and OMD’s sparkling pop classic “Enola Gay,” as well as songs from Ultravox and Japan.
Named for the Jam classic, Going Underground focuses primarily on the British scene, with tracks from seminal groups such as The Smiths, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Jam, Gang Of Four, Billy Bragg, and Robyn Hitchcock’s first band The Soft Boys.
Left Of The Dial is the best of the three releases and most strikingly highlights the diversity of post-punk, from the jangle-pop of R.E.M., the hypnotic gloom of Joy Division, the beginnings of the Paisley Underground sound represented by The Dream Syndicate, the synth-pop of Thomas Dolby, the neo-psychedelia of The Church, and the dream-pop of the Cocteau Twins and The Chills.
Postpunk Chronicles is an admirable effort to document an enormously important phase in rock’s development. There are a few glaring omissions, such as Hüsker Dü and the Talking Heads, which could easily be rectified by Rhino going all-out and giving this period the full box-set treatment.