Despite a large recorded output and an avoidance of typecasting, London’s 999 never amounted to anything more than an undistinguished and dispensable band of moderate ability. Variously posing as mutant bubblegum, rocky art-school cleverness, hard R&B rock and quirky pop, 999’s problem has always been a lack of adequate talent to invest their music with real originality; to be fair, they have managed a few good sides along the way and also deserve credit for endurance and persistence.
999 introduced the band, dressed in kicky, colorful clothes and working with pop producer Andy Arthurs, yet it’s not a pop album. The music is harmless but charmless, although the vocals are occasionally winning, as on “Me and My Desire” and the whiny “Emergency.” The CD adds three bonus tracks.
For their second effort, 999 enlisted soon-to-be-a-superstar producer Martin Rushent, and Separates does have a lot more going for it. The band’s playing is harder and tighter, with better focus, although the semi-hit “Homicide” benefits more from a clever arrangement than intrinsic quality. Other good tunes include the taut “Feelin’ Alright with the Crew” and an all-out rocker, “High Energy Plan.” Still minor, but improving. (High Energy Plan is an American revision, with two tracks deleted and two 45 cuts added.)
The Biggest Prize in Sport teamed 999 (temporarily a five-piece, having added a second drummer to aid the injured Pablo Labritain) with producer Vic Maile, resulting in a disc that is trebly and lifeless, except for the poppy title track, which sounds like an East End Ramones.
Hoping to stir up some domestic interest, 999’s American record company issued a six-song mini-album, The Biggest Tour in Sport, recorded live in 1980 in the States. The sound’s good and hot; selections include “Homicide,” “Emergency” and “Feelin’ Alright with the Crew.”
Not to be outdone, their English label whipped up a collection — in chronological order — of 999’s singles, starting with “I’m Alive” (1977) and running through “Waiting” (1978), including both sides of each — fifteen tracks in all. If you need to find out about 999, Singles Album is the record to have, containing all their essential (i.e., good) material.
Concrete could almost be mistaken for an Inmates record, thanks to two pointless covers (“Li’l Red Riding Hood,” “Fortune Teller”) and a mundane, characterless guitar-rock sound.
13th Floor Madness was slagged off in the press as soft disco, but the self-released Face to Face is a pleasant surprise, offering melodic rock with a certain charm (despite occasional gaffes and lapses of wit). The band’s original lineup, still together after all these years, is not exactly getting better by leaps and bounds, but the songs here are their most likable in a long time — a few could even be characterized as memorable — and bits of invention keep them moving along.
Following another compilation (In Case of Emergency), 999 released Lust Power and Money, an all-new live-in-London album recorded in April 1987. The band’s lineup is essentially intact (only the bassist is new); the program includes the ancient (“Hit Me,” “Homicide,” “Feelin’ Alright with the Crew”) and the relatively recent (“White Trash” and “Lust Power and Money”). The performance is dull but the sound is good. (One hopes there was more audience present than what’s audible.)
As hard as it might be to believe that an audience exists for such a thing, The Cellblock Tapes is an out-of-the-vaults album containing eight vintage live tracks and seven old demos.