To this day I can still remember clearly coming out of TJ’s (before John Peel gave it its “legendary” status), one autumn night in 1986, in my hometown of Newport, Wales, having had my ears blown away by a band whose album I was fiercely clutching as the ringing in my head set in for a good 24 hours. That band was the Depraved, influenced both by the USHC of the time and also '60s organ-driven music. The cover of the record Stupidity Maketh the Man showed a scene from a lynching, with a huge white mob milling around the bodies hanging from a tree—a powerful picture (reflecting dramatically the album title) backed up by angry, yet hugely positive lyrics over a suitably livid musical cacophony.
That band soon evolved into the more melodic Visions of Change, where the '60s influence became more prominent at times and identified the band as one of the more innovative amongst the crop who were looking to the USA for influence during the mid-to-late 1980s.
Back to the present day, Boss Tuneage Retro have finally got round to releasing a double-CD package representing the complete recorded output of both bands, something I've been looking forward to since I first read about it. Although I think that the main focus of the release is Visions of Change, I was really excited about hearing the Depraved again after many years.
Listening in chronological order, this opens up with the Depraved’s Stupidity album and it is noticeable that despite the 20-odd years since I first heard it, it has retained its ability to highlight the anger felt at the various injustices around, etc., whilst still sounding pretty damn good. It didn't take long at all for these songs to come from the back of my mind, letting me sing along to my favourite tracks; “New Macarthyite” opens the CD and still remains their best track in my opinion. Other standouts include “Reject That Mentality” and the clearly '60s influenced (both in title and sound), “Let’s Grow Some Flowers (Together)”. The earlier Depraved material has a more UK feel to it with a fairly basic but still enjoyable sound. It’s interesting to see how their music progressed to something that, at times, has a slight Minor Threat flavour to it.
Whilst primarily straight-up U.S. hardcore done with a bit of UK style thrown in, the added organ on songs really helped make the Depraved stand out amongst a growing number of bands adopting a more USHC approach within the UK. With 27 tracks here, it’s a comprehensive collection from an often overlooked band that deserves to be remembered.
Visions of Change were basically the Depraved lineup, but with slightly better production and with a massive nod towards bands like Dag Nasty and M.I.A. in terms of what they were trying to sound like as well as the messages they wanted to convey; the name change resulted from a desire to appear more positive amongst the more negative-looking punk scene.
Musically, Visions of Change lacked that more direct hardcore slant of the Depraved, which was dropped in favour of a more melodic approach with more variety to the songs whilst the Hammond organ was still being utilised for that something extra on occasions. The overall feel was once again a sort of mix of USHC and '60s rock/pop, which worked extremely well and had Visions of Change becoming firm favourites across the UK and Europe. With Ian Murphy still on vocals, they were blessed with an engaging, honest and intense frontman to communicate serious messages but without being po-faced and preachy. 24 songs in all, including a Peel session and a number of unreleased songs, this adds up to a cracking addition to the Boss Tuneage Retro Series and one which will gain many plays in my house.
I don’t think the Visions of Change material is as strong as Stupidity Maketh the Man, but I’m sure that there will be people who have opposite opinions, but what is relevant is that the two bands both had a positive impact on their peers and were pushing boundaries in a direction different to most other bands who were into hardcore and punk within the UK at the time.
The release features liner notes taken directly from Ian Glasper’s excellent book, Trapped in a Scene, devoted to the UK hardcore scene, whilst the artwork is provided by Welly (Artcore) who seems to be becoming the “man to go to” in respect of Boss Tuneage artwork these days. With the original sound quality left untouched (or so it seems), this is a good reminder of how records need not be produced to within an inch of their lives to retain a vitality and vibrancy that displays the anger and emotion behind such music.
Currently, Ian can be found fronting Section 13, a Dag Nasty-style band who are still raging against injustices whilst remaining positive despite the onset of middle age, a curse to many but something that need not lead one into a life of acceptance and giving in.