‘Escape From The Austerity Complex’
(album, Overground Records)
“Seriousness that asserts itself. Never believe in it. Never confuse it with gravity.”
Not only does the ageing process bring with it an almost unlimited capacity for discerning ironies, it also enables an ever lengthening field of hindsight. It is widely presumed that such increased perspective, in term, facilitates a form of mellow acceptance – a coming to terms with one’s lot in life. This is a notion that sits uneasily alongside the attitudinal ethos of punk rock. We are supposed to grow old disgracefully, still nurturing the fires of sedition in our breasts, only now it has to compete with heartburn.
Still, the notion that the passion, energy and wonder of our youths should remain within us as we age is surely a positive thing. The retention of a degree of youthful restlessness can reasonably be assumed to represent one means of guarding against complacency. Similarly, maintaining a capacity for excitement and wonder ensures that any propensity toward analysis is – sometimes – bypassed. This again, mitigates against any tendency to over-intellectualise. Concomitant to the benefits of such jeunesse, a lifetime of accrued experience should enable one to apply sagacity to enthusiasm as required.
In practice, best-of-both-worlds gestalts doesn’t always come out so well. Aside from a few paragons, many of us – having an informed sense of what battles we can win and which would be absolutely futile – tend to compromise, settling for degrees of opposition that fall some way short of self destructive. In ‘Work. Rest. Play. Die’, the Subhumans’ Dick Lucas posed the question, “are you prepared to die for your beliefs or just to die your hair?” Fair enough – Dick, to the best of my knowledge, has never dyed his hair. He’s also still around, which is a good thing. What this demonstrates, is that at some point, even the most committed are likely to determine that dying for their beliefs is only worthwhile if it makes a positive difference. You can’t do much dead, so the wisdom of age leavens the fire of youth and we oppose where and when it will be practical and effective.
To what extent the individual is inclined to reconcile their beliefs and their actions depends upon any number of factors. In the case of Paranoid Visions, the evidence provided by ‘Escape From The Austerity Complex’, could be argued to indicate that here are some well meaning people, with good intentions and a desire to stamp out injustice and cruelty and generally make things better, but after thirty years of having a go at achieving these aims, will now pretty much settle for a decent slot at Rebellion and a nice write up in Louder Than War. And why not? Paranoid Visions have been going since 1981, they’ve paid their dues, spread the good word and fought the good fight. There is nothing inherently shameful about a band settling into a niche scene that draws its core audience from those with a penchant for nostalgia.
‘Escape From The Austerity Complex’ stands as an apparently accurate representation of the dichotomy that pulls at Paranoid Visions. Although the album is packed with nebulous strands of anti-capitalist rhetoric, much promosheet play is made of their recent Irish chart successes and the disc’s crossover potential. The same sheet cites any number of bands as a means of describing some of the album’s sixteen tracks, which serves to highlight the derivative nature of the set. Again, so what? Most things are derivative of something else in some way, and it’s often a question of how the creative(s) lash those influences together. In this case, it’s not panned out.
Lyrically, the album reads as a litany of other people’s ideas. While mentions of the current global economy lends the words a contemporary edge and specific references to the situation in Ireland adds elements of reportage, this is undermined by the way in which Deka Coppa’s lyrics generally tend to read exactly like you’d imagine lyrics written by someone who thought that their chosen nomenclature was witty/punk/edgy. Aside from such vapid, fourth form vagueness as ‘It’s all enshrined in proclamations, all written down in stone/We have the right to revolution, to make our country home’ and ‘The words in stone could cut both ways/But the pen is tainted ink’, he’s opened a bumper sized can of cliché: forewarned remains forearmed, pride precedes falls and ruts are stuck in. This reaches something of a nadir with ‘Outsider Artist’, which despite TV Smith’s vocal contribution threatening to rescue the track, plays the punk-as-martyr card in a pious, self regarding way that is so staggering that it is easy to overlook the turgid mid-paced rock to which Coppa’s lyrics have been spliced.
Indeed, the guest contributions are rightly hyped among the album’s selling points. This again, is fair enough as the presence of Smith, Steve Ignorant and The Shend provides the album with some highlights, while the difference between Zillah Minx’s impassioned and informed spoken word segment on ‘Poles Apart’ serves to make Cappa’s subsequent section look silly, possibly because he seems to be trying to give us his finest Michael Moorcock. The song itself is a tedious, overblown ‘Song of the Volga Boatman’ that traverses ecological seas, while evoking aspects of Christianity. This is wholly in keeping with much of Coppa’s vocal contributions, which are by turns theatrical (‘On The Run’), lachrymose (‘Politician’ – which sees him backed by what sounds like a school choir), unconvincing (the contrived nursery-rhyme polemics of ‘Statement’), and finally resembles Tom Waits with a studded wristband (lengthy closer ‘Recession Club’).
There’s plenty of stylistic variety here, opener ‘Austerity Crusade’ sounds like a Laibach tribute band from Surrey, ‘On The Run’ sustains authentic levels of UK82 assault for a while, then goes a bit prog, ‘Politician’ has a Big Country vibe, ‘Problems’ post-Ramonic nihilism evokes Erazerhead and the appallingly titled ‘Beatenhoven’s Symphony’ benefits from a rare spell of vocal restraint from the frontman, to emerge as perhaps the album’s best song.
What ‘…Austerity Complex’ doesn’t have is content that stands any chance of galvanising anybody. Too often, the lyrics simply parrot received wisdoms and detail the ills of capitalism without offering any tangible form of alternative. In this sense, ‘Dangerous Rhythms’ represents something of a counter-intuitive peak, given that there is nothing at all dangerous here – just a mix of banal synthrock and poorly thought-out fifth-hand rhetoric. Even ‘Don’t Let The Rot Set In’’s well-intentioned plea for multicultural tolerance is undermined by the song’s hamfisted and unengaging didacticism, which seems to indicate that thirty years down the line, there are those that are still at the Chron Gen stage.
So what’s THIS for? One suspects that it’s preaching – however ill-defined, is largely for the benefit of the converted. And that end of the converted spectrum is often primarily concerned with a few beers and a jolly up to the Anti-Nowhere League at Rebellion. So they’re not really listening anymore. On the positive side, this could conceivably serve as an undemanding gateway to the uninitiated, and I guess if that sets one person on an educative trail, then this is more than just a commercial, or comfort exercise.