Lords of English punk’s extreme left, the Essex-based Crass didn’t just sing about anarchy in the UK — they did something about it. Formed in 1977 as a band much in the Sex Pistols/Sham 69 image, they saw themselves as a more righteous alternative to those bands, and soon evolved into an anarchist commune, a broadsheet publisher, several record labels and an information service. Crass espouse all the proper causes — anti-war, anti-nuclear, feminism, flushing out hypocrisy in organized religion — with blood-curdling vehemence on their own records and on the numerous singles and albums by likeminded bands they’ve released (or inspired). The group was frequently embroiled in legal battles with various government agencies but, in an era largely typified by apathy, Crass stands as a remarkably successful model of dead-serious political commitment in rock.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand is a reissue of the group’s debut EP on Small Wonder. Fitting eighteen songs on a 12-inch 45, it is typical of Crass’ shock tactics: the first cut is a sneering recitation of “Asylum,” an irreverent dismissal of Christ as anybody’s lord over droning guitar feedback. The rest is mostly raw faster-louder punk spiked with protest demagoguery, four-letter words and harsh Cockney ranting.
Stations of the Crass is even harder going — three studio sides and a live side containing a full seventeen numbers. Almost in spite of the oppressive, relentless punk bluster, Crass often wrote anthemic songs (like the ironic “Banned from the Roxy” and “Do They Owe Us a Living?” from Five Thousand), but over the course of this album (all of the studio material was cut in one day!), they blur into white noise. “White Punks on Hope” forcefully summarizes their scorn of punk as fashion; the Sham 69 parody, “Hurry Up Garry,” is a wicked snipe at the music press.
Better production and more expansive arrangements distinguish Penis Envy. Drawing an ugly parallel between rampant sexism and man’s rape of nature and society, the album bounces vibrantly from the strident bash of the ironic rape fantasy “Bata Motel” to the LP’s unsettling church-organ coda.
Christ — The Album is quintessential Crass. This boxed two-record studio/live set comes with a 28-page booklet packed with emotionally charged fine print about the revolution and one man who died for it. Musically, it builds on the daring of Penis Envy, going so far as to include a mock string arrangement in “Reality Whitewash” without tempering the band’s brute punk rage. The severity of their sound and the belligerent politics can be predictable, even petulant, but Christ — The Album proves the band’s courage and conviction.
Yes Sir, I Will. is a bitter response to the Falklands War, a series of musical speeches covering the conflict and indicting Prime Minister Thatcher for the deaths. Although most of the backing is typically abrasive, a couple of passages are quite beautiful.
Drummer Penny Rimbaud and singer Eve Libertine put together Acts of Love, an album of romantic poetry, “in an attempt to demonstrate that the source of our anger was love rather than hate.” After making a final album, 10 Notes on a Summer’s Day, Crass retired from performing and recording (keeping the Crass label in business, and reissuing the band’s catalogue on CD) to continue the struggle in more personal ways. The 20-song Best Before compilation begins with 1977’s “Do They Owe Us a Living?” and runs through the band’s singles before ending with that same song performed in 1984 at Crass’ final gig.