PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Delta 5: Singles and Sessions 1979-1981

Rob Horning

Delta 5 featured a trio of women singing in plain, unadorned voices, signaling a de facto rejection of the notion that female singing should be as sweet, simpering and desperately ingratiating as women themselves are too often expected to be.

Delta 5

Singles and Sessions 1979-1981

Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2006-01-24
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

Spawned from the same Leeds art school scene as the Gang of Four, Delta 5 employed many of the same defamiliarizing, alienating musical strategies to try to invigorate the pop song form and invest it with the potential to be a weapon of social critique -- unorthodox but insistent rhythms, wobbly bass lines appropriated from disco and funk, slogans typically barked in unison for lyrics, intermittent explosions of atonal guitar punctuating the song in lieu of verse-chorus structure. (Nevertheless some of these have been made familiar to the point of fatigue by the Gang of Four's recent slicker successors.) The main difference between the bands is that Delta 5 featured a trio of women singing in plain, unadorned voices (similar to their contemporaries, the Raincoats), signaling a de facto rejection of the notion that female singing should be as sweet, simpering and desperately ingratiating as women themselves are too often expected to be.

This hectoring vocal approach suits the topics of these songs, which typically harangue negligent relationship partners with a battery of complaints, threats and insults: "Who forgot to phone last Tuesday? You. / Who took me to Wimpy's for a big night out? You" (from "You"). "Mind Your Own Business", the bracing opening song on the disc (and a veritable paradigm for Erase Errata's sound), repeats its troubling litany -- "Can I have a taste of your ice cream? / Can I lick the crumbs from your table? / Can I interfere in your crisis?") with a cacophony of overlapping voices utterly lacking in harmony, emphasizing the simultaneity of the contradictory feelings implied, the anger and neediness and desire and spite, while presenting palpably, in the resultant chaotic babble, just how paranoid and claustrophobic a relationship beset by such questions can feel.

This song encapsulates the band's approach, which it repeats in subsequent songs on this disc without ever really doing it better. "Mind Your Own Business" is the kind of song so immediate in its impact that it makes critical mediation of the sort provided in the previous sentences utterly unnecessary; you feel in the listening experience the ideas the group seeks to convey. Some of the other tracks aren't always that successful; at times some songs' compositional elements can seem frustratingly out of control, like an umbrella blown inside-out.

In the liner notes that accompany this collection -- which compiles the A and B sides of three early singles, seven songs from radio sessions with John Peel, and three tracks from a Berkeley, California, show recorded in 1980 -- Greil Marcus points out that Delta 5's songs cut both ways, against the accuser and the accused, which leaves a listener with nowhere to comfortably place her sympathies. What results is a sense that relationships themselves are structurally flawed, an argument that the unstable musical structure, the stumbling drum patterns and wearily looping and dueling runs of the group's multiple bass players and staccato guitar interjections, reiterates. So after making it quite clear that coordination between the sexes is virtually impossible and suggesting relationships inevitably slide into mutually degrading stalemates of recrimination, there is something grim and ironic about such songs as "Delta 5" that then invite you to dance. Like the band's dismantling of love songs, its approach to dance music is spiked with contradiction and dialectic tension.

Just as contemporary social conditions make relationships untenable and ordinary love songs hollow lies, they also force us to consider whether dancing integrates or isolates, whether it epitomizes sexism or undermines it, whether it is an act of aggression or ritual supplication. And likewise, "Makeup", a consideration of the everyday function of cosmetics, asks the deceptively straightforward question, "Do you wear it or does it wear you?" Through these false dichotomies and irresolvable inconsistencies Delta 5 manages to be political without being polemical, which is to say its music encourages us to regard perhaps most particularly the mundane things in our lives with critical scrutiny but without the ideological cant that mints received opinions in the first place.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.