Sometimes it can be hard to capture the essence of a great live band on album. Far too often, live shows that were frantic and propulsive at the venue feel a little flat at home. ‘Time’s Up’, however, is not one of those albums. Recorded in 1976, it shows Buzzcocks at their rawest, most honest and arguably most punk. Though ‘Time’s Up’ unmistakably bears the sound and energy of a live album, it was actually recorded at a studio – Stockport’s Revolution Studios. ‘Time’s Up’, then, is essentially the best of both worlds; it has the adrenaline fuelled ferocity of a Buzzcocks live show, but with the fidelity (for need of a better word – it is a punk album, after all) of a studio recording.
The original Howard Devoto led incartion of Buzzcocks was undoubtedly the most vicious version of the band, with 1977’s legendary ‘Spiral Scratch’ seeing the band take a far more aggressive angle than the melodic pop-punk of their later work. While it’s ‘Spiral Scratch’ that remains the best known document of this short lived early line-up (understandable, given its influence and quality), ‘Time’s Up’ is arguably Devoto and Buzzcocks’ definitive statement.
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For a start, there’s far more to sink your teeth into here than with the all-too-short ‘Spiral Scratch’. At 28 minutes, ‘Time’s Up’ certainly never outstays its welcome but it’s markedly more substantial than ‘Spiral Scratch’s’ 10 minutes. There’s a ferocious urgency to the album as well. It feels vital and very alive – an impressive feat in which the band manage to convey the excitement of one of their live shows so authentically in the studio.
As with the almost shockingly fresh feeling of ‘Spiral Scratch’, much of ‘Time’s Up’ feels like the work of a much more recent band. The fittingly named ‘Adrenaline’ has the vicious squall of an early raw Nirvana recording, only well over a decade before that band formed. In fact it’s so easy to hear countless bands that are indebted to ‘Time’s Up’ – and that is a real achievement, given how many other punk recordings of a similar vintage feel rather tame now.
The songs on ‘Time’s Up’ rank amongst some of Buzzcocks’ best ever. The title track is utterly addictive, instantly memorable and immediate moreish. ‘Boredom’ and ‘Breakdown’ are Buzzcocks anthems – forty years on they are still firm favourites amongst the group’s fanbase.
There are some surprises along the way, too. It’s easy to pigeonhole early Buzzcocks solely as a punk band, a group completely without the pop influence the band would gain once they lost frontman Howard Devoto. While there’s certainly some truth to that, it’s a simplification. A lot of ‘Time’s Up’ is heavier than later work, but there is some burgeoning pop influence on the album. The barber-shop style backing vocals on ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ sound like something you’d more readily associate with a bit of classic ’60’s pop than with punk rock. Indeed, although most songs on ‘Time’s Up’ are presented through a thick wall of fuzz and dirt, fundamentally, it’s a very catchy album.
Another surprise comes in the form of a short Captain Beefheart cover, ‘I Love You, You Big Dummy’. This originally appeared on the venerable Captain’s 1970 classic ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’. Granted, the Buzzcocks version does away with much of the song’s weirdness and presents it as something approaching a straight-ahead punk song; but it still signposts the more experimental, even avant-garde direction the band would go towards later on – especially on 1979’s ‘A Different Kind Of Tension’. Devoto’s art-punk band Magazine later released their own version of ‘I Love You, You Big Dummy’ on the B-side of ‘Give me Everything’ in 1978.
‘Time’s Up’ is utterly instantaneous. It’s immediately impactful and still stands as a collection of fundamentally great songs. It’s well written, tightly performed and so inventive that the album’s echos are still being heard now.
‘Time’s Up’ Re-Issue is out on the 24th February 2017