The Slits - Cut (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Slits

Cut (1979)

Island Records

Even if you've never heard the Slits, you've probably seen the cover of their debut, Cut. The photograph of the three female members naked, slathered in mud, has shown up on plenty of "controversial covers" and "top punk covers" lists (studio drummer Budgie, of Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Creatures, opted to sit this photo session out). It's both a distraction (boobs!) and a warning: There be primal forces at work here.

Cut caught the Slits, and punk rock in general, in a transitional period, which is funny given that it went on to be the band's well known record. Gone are the raw punk tunes written about in documents of the early British punk scene. But the members hadn't quite mastered world music by this point either. Indeed, Budgie was arguably the most technically proficient member of the group, and he was just trying to be nice.

But through this rough approximation of reggae comes something truly exemplary. It's not ska-punk nor is it so dubbed out as to become incomprehensible. Rather, the Slits achieve this kind of weird middleground. Budgie provides a solid backing to keep the other members tethered while they explore the songs; and trust me, lead singer Ari Up goes all over the place vocally. She's not quite Yoko Ono, but she's got some unconventional vibrato stuff going on.

There are a lot of different perspectives on what constitutes "punk." For some, it's hating authority, reveling in anarchy and getting drunk. But I'm a Clash guy, so I look to punk for its ideals: think for yourself, explore the world, put your spin on it. One thing we can all agree on when it comes to punk's '70s run is that it sought to redeem rock ‘n' roll from the quagmire of indulgence it had fallen into. The Slits totally represent that notion. Had the members been a little more trained, they probably never would have found such a unique take on reggae. Cut is post-punk. It's punk. It's reggae. It's that almost not quite but dammit they're trying in between.