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Review: Angelic Upstarts - The Albums 1979-82

Angelic Upstarts - The Albums 1979-1982 boxset
Angelic Upstarts - The Albums 1979-1982 boxset

Forty-one years into their career and still going strong, it's as good a time as any to take stock of the Angelic Upstarts' legacy.

Formed in South Shields in 1977, after being inspired by the first wave of punk bands, they were one of the forerunners of the sub-genre now called streetpunk.

Original frontman Mensi continues to tour with the latest line-up of the Angelic Upstarts.

Original frontman Mensi continues to tour with the latest line-up of the Angelic Upstarts.

Their staunchly anti-fascist and working class philosophy made for some of the most powerful songs of the punk era.

This 5CD boxset, lovingly compiled by Cherry Red Records/Captain Oi!, brings together their first four studio albums, and a 1981 live set.

From the start it's incendiary stuff, with their 1979 debut album Teenage Warning positively brimming over with anger.

It contained three singles - the title track, the anthemic I'm An Upstart and the stonewall punk classic The Murder of Liddle Towers, and reached No 29 in the national charts.

Here, the original 12 songs (including a cover of Cliff Richard's The Young Ones!) are bolstered by a couple of bonus tracks - the single version of Liddle Towers and its raging B-side Police Oppression.

As a document of disenchanted youth, you might think it doesn't get much better than Teenage Warning. You'd be wrong.

Second album We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, released just eight months later, shows a rapid progression, and for me contains some of the band's finest moments.

Again it contains three singles; the title track (a cover of The Animals' classic), opener Never 'Ad Nothin', and Out Of Control, but the highlight is Shotgun Solution, a venomous rant at their former manager.

Not far behind is Lonely Man Of Spandau, which shows frontman Mensi and guitarist Ray Cowie's growing prowess as songwriters with its case for freeing jailed Nazi leader Rudolf Hess.

Fast forward another 14 months and we have third album 2,000,000 Voices - named after the then-record number of people registered as unemployed in Margaret Thatcher's Britain.

Many people's favourite Upstarts album, it includes the singles Last Night Another Soldier, England, Kids On The Streets and I Understand, the latter being the band's first foray into reggae.

Again, the standout track wasn't a single, and Guns For The Afghan Rebels remains a live favourite to this day. B-sides from the period mean there are four bonus tracks.

Disc four is Live, which is exactly as the uninspiring title suggests, though spoiled a little by being a hit and miss recording which sounds a little muddy in places.

Dating from June 1981, just after the release of 2,000,000 Voices, it gathers the pick of the first three albums, and adds a couple of Mensi's spoken word poems - the only place you'll find them.

Four tracks included on a free flexidisc with the original LP make up the bonus cuts, with the most interesting being a cover of White Riot by The Clash - the band who inspired the Upstarts to form in the first place.

The last disc in the set is fourth studio set Still From The Heart, released in April 1982, which remains the least loved album in the band's extensive back catalogue - and for good reason.

The songwriting isn't bad, but the production is just awful, removing all the anger and aggression which made the Upstarts such a compelling listen, and replacing it with a slick pop sheen which really didn't suit them.

Like many of their contemporaries, they were trying different things in an attempt to fit in with a changing musical soundscape which decreed that punk as we knew it had had its day.

Keyboards and saxophone feature prominently - something which just don't sit well on an Upstarts record.

The best song here is Action Man, revisited in more typical Upstarts style by Mensi and another incarnation of the band 20 years later on the Sons Of Spartacus album.

The last disc aside, this is a set which would enhance any punk fan's collection. 8/10.