Buzzcocks were undeniably one of the best bands to emerge from the late 1970s British punk scene. Still, unlike the Clash, the Sex Pistols, or Wire, they never produced a front-to-back great, non-compilation album. The stellar Singles Going Steady (1979), a remarkably coherent collection of UK A-sides and B-sides recorded between November 1977 and July 1979, one designed to build a US audience for the band, is one of rock’s essential records. Even though they did their best work on singles, the Buzzcocks’ oft-neglected albums are still worth a listen.
Preceding the release of Singles Going Steady by just over a year and arriving six months after the release of their debut LP, the solid Another Music in a Different Kitchen, Love Bites, is a similarly good, not outstanding, Buzzcocks album, full of the pop hooks and experimental excursions that their fans had, by late 1978, come to associate with them. Domino Records has reissued the Martin Rushent-produced Love Bites as part of its series marking the 40th anniversary of the group’s recordings. The album has been remastered from the original 1/4″ tapes for the first time.
The refurbishing work is superb, adding clarity and punch to standouts like the fast, endlessly hooky anthem “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have)”, the band’s highest-charting single (it rose to number #12 in the UK), as well as such longer pieces as “Late for the Train”, a track defined by its relentless, punishing rhythms and a backward-sounding guitar lick. (It should come as no surprise that lead singer and guitarist and principal songwriter Pete Shelley was a fan of both the Velvet Underground and Can.) On Love Bites, the band’s penchant for tinkering with the punk formula, already in evidence on Another Music in a Different Kitchen, can be heard, especially, on “Operator’s Manual”, a song that bounces between time signatures and contains a section that bears a notable resemblance to Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge”, released less than a month earlier, in August 1978.
Lyrically, Shelley combines lovesick lyrics with a wry sense of humor and sharp observations. On opening track “The Real World”, after a nimble, slow-burning intro, Shelley plays coy with a would-be partner, to whom he pours out his desire to experience a love outside of his fantasies “in the real world”. (The late Shelley was clearly a romantic at heart.) The frenetic “Just Lust” reflects his disappointment with a “wham-bam”-style lover. “Is it all real?” he asks, before deciding that, despite appearances, the relationship is based on nothing deep or sincere. A number of other tunes demonstrate Shelley’s underrated lyrical abilities. In the aggressive “Nostalgia”, he strings together clever lyrics that reflect “nostalgia for an age yet to come”, while bemoaning that “my future and my past are presently disarranged”.
Love Bites‘ strong first side is anchored to a somewhat anemic second side, in particular rhythm guitarist Steve Diggle’s “Love Is Lies”. With a Big Star-like chorus, it feels out of place on the album. It is preceded by bassist Steve Garvey’s short instrumental, “Walking Distance”, an energetic, though inessential, effort. Two Shelley songs—”Nothing Left” and “E.S.P.”—and one credited to all of the group’s members, the aforementioned “Late for the Train”, conclude Love Bites on a high note; all of them clock in well above the four-minute mark, demonstrating that the Buzzcocks were undeterred by the artificial confines of the standard punk song. “Nothing Else”, for example, pulses along on a tight groove in the verses before transitioning into a chorus that features Shelley delivering post-break-up lyrics, in his trademark fashion, halfway between desperate and insouciant, while drummer John Maher crashes his cymbals. “‘Cause I’ve nothing left at all / At all, at all, at all, at all / At all, at all, at all,” Shelley sings.
Unlike previous reissues of Love Bites, the 2019 edition contains only the original LP—no bonus tracks. Regardless, this current reissue is worth having for the superior sound, in addition to some standout songs with which many listeners might be less familiar. Although uneven, Love Bites remains a notable document of the group’s ability to deliver effortless pop-punk hooks and commitment to challenging itself and its audiences during a time in which the line between punk and new wave began to blur.