I’m not sure what to think about the music of a band that informs me that “three members are vegetarians” and then tattles on the one — Paco — who isn’t. The sleeve of the second album by these Crass-family Anglo-anarchists (Steve Ignorant, who became, along with mainman Colin Jerwood, one of Conflict’s three simultaneous lead vocalists, was a founding member of Crass) also notes that the band “still wear articles of leather” but they’ve gotten down to “just boots,” which “they will continue to wear until they are useless” but “will not buy more.” I certainly respect people with a highly developed and self-disciplined political consciousness, but I can’t shake the feeling that a record album should do more than announce how deep the musicians’ commitment runs. In the real/rock world, only the young and the gullible expect their favorite bands to abide by lofty personal standards.
That aside, Conflict (not to be confused with an early-’80s Arizona band of the same name) is a pretty good political punk band, powered by fire and intelligence. It’s Time to See Who’s Who has incredibly ornate artwork and songs about media, Vietnam, vegetarianism (Smiths fans should note Conflict’s “Meat Means Murder” here) and related issues. Increase the Pressure is a more proletarian production with black and white artwork; the LP itself is half-studio (dynamic) and half-live (raucous). This time out, the prominent issue illustrated on the graphics is Save the Seals; songs attack cruise missiles, the music press, the police, etc. with undiminished zeal and venom.
The Ungovernable Force, a self-descriptive slogan Conflict has repeated on subsequent releases, uses news reports, riot noises and spoken-word ingredients (as well as a musical quote from “Anarchy in the UK”) in its relentless attack on Thatcher’s England and its equally stubborn support of the Animal Liberation Front. Blistering.
The double-live Turning Rebellion into Money was recorded in April 1987 at a London show known as the “Gathering of the 5,000”; the back cover enumerates the progressive organizations sharing — as per the title’s promise — the proceeds. The 32 artless punk tunes, a veritable best-of-Conflict collection, bark out with righteous guitar-and-sax rage at every topic imaginable, from specific events to assorted socio-economic-political issues. Only Stupid Bastards Help EMI is another live record.
Muddy sound and a horn player are the two distinguishing characteristics of The Final Conflict, a well-played but poorly recorded ten-track collection that looks inward, offering lyrics about the band: “I Heard a Rumour” repeats absurd gossip about Conflict’s integrity, replying “Drop it/forget it/you’ve got it fucking wrong.” (The Final Conflict cassette is backed with The Ungovernable Force.)
In mid-’89, Conflict issued two simultaneous albums. Standard Issue is an annotated compilation of album tracks and rare singles, including “Conflict,” from the group’s 1982 debut, and three powerful mid-tempo tracks from The Serenade Is Dead, a 1984 EP that actually reached the British pop charts. (The Standard Issue cassette is backed with Increase the Pressure.) One side of the other record, Against All Odds, is given over to the extended titular piece, which begins with a chilling machine-guns-and-choir introduction and then continues into familiar speed-guitar raunch, only to turn quiet and slow halfway through. The remainder of the album is equally unpredictable, with somewhat more accessible songs that have actual melodies, electronic keyboards and sound effects.