1981, Music

Penis Envy (1981) by Crass

I can be a little skeptical of records from certain genres released past the genre’s “moment.” So I’m often skeptical of “classic” punk records that were released after 1978 just as I’m skeptical of “classic” new wave records released in the ’80s.

But this is a punk album more in attitude than it is in music. Yes, Libertine’s vocals are pretty classic female punk vocals but the music behind her doesn’t always fit in with punk conventions. Often it goes to places that no first wave punk band would be got dead in. (I don’t know if you can call these folks “first wave” given that they formed after seeing The Clash and they didn’t get an LP out until late 1978.)

It’s fascinating to me that this band had multiple singers and just decided, “Okay this is going to be our feminist record and so the women will sing this one and our lead singer will just take it off. The result is certainly one of the most acerbic and cutting of the women-fronted punk and post punk records of the era.

Musically, though there are plenty of songs that sound like classic British punk (or mostly sound like it) there are these weird sonic touches that shatter the illusion that this is some run of the mill punk band: There is a harmonium on one song, you guys. Or take the 100 second intro of “What the Fuck” which is designed to make you say its title out loud. And though I would have likely enjoyed the record without those weird touches, it’s just easier to celebrate it given that the music deviates from the punk template as much as it does. I know nothing about their earlier albums but, at least on this one, they’re more musically interesting than your average UK punk band.

So I am very pleasantly surprised by this. I’m still not sure I’d take it over contemporary UK post punk – one of my all time favourite genres – but it’s definitely one of the weirdest punk albums of its era, as well as being a classic feminist tract.


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