Remember Dr. Feelgood? How ’bout Eddie and the Hot Rods? Well, if the white-hot pre-punk R&B/rock’n’roll of those two bands means anything to you, chances are you’ll love the early Godfathers — formed by London brothers Peter (vocals) and Chris (bass/vocals) Coyne, initially as the Syd Presley Experience — to death. Not coincidentally, the late Vic Maile (original producer of both the Feelgoods and Hot Rods) was at the helm for the first three Godfathers discs. (He died shortly after the completion of More Songs.) With lyrics of working class angst in a Britain where, as Peter Coyne sings in “The Strangest Boy,” “My future’s past, already gone and been,” the Godfathers lay out the worst-case scenario of the Pistols’ “No future in England’s dream”: a landscape of poverty, drugs and desperation. Unlike the punks of yore, though, the Godfathers remain motivated, if only by sexual and material desires and a stubborn streak of self-preservation. Punk meets mod at the bottom of the social barrel.
Hit by Hit presents a band already sporting a remarkably clear vision. Titles like “I Want Everything,” “This Damn Nation,” “I Want You” and “I’m Unsatisfied,” replete with explosive riffing and angry vocals, tell you nearly all you need to know about how the Godfathers saw their lot in Maggie Thatcher’s England. A strong cover of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey,” and a version of Rolf Harris’ “Sun Arise” that makes Alice Cooper’s sound sickly round out an essential debut.
Birth, School, Work, Death is even tougher and more focused than Hit by Hit. The dynamic title track and “‘Cause I Said So” are the high points of a record that just seethes with the anger and aggression that seems to have all but gone out of non-hardcore British post-punk rock.
The fatalistic vision articulated on the song “Birth, School, Work, Death” fully flowers on More Songs About Love and Hate (which could just as easily have been titled More Songs About Resignation and Fate). Whereas the Godfathers could once sing “I Want Everything,” they now realize that dream (such as it was) is behind them. “Life Has Passed Us By” (which ironically offers the music hall ambience of the Stones’ Between the Buttons and the Small Faces Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake), “How Low Is Low?,” “Those Days Are Over” and “This Is Your Life” (which ends with one guitar chord being hit more than 75 times) are all bleak views of a life where things only get worse. At this point the group seems to live by Pete Townshend’s old maxim that great rock’n’roll spells out your troubles, then lets you dance all over them. They certainly offer little hope of any other cure for what ails them.
Although marked by increased allusions to ’60s influences, Unreal World doesn’t get overly retroid (the fab cover of the Creation’s “How Does It Feel to Feel” marches the song straight into the ’90s). In fact, it’s pretty well rooted in the here-and-now, largely due to producer Steve Brown (previously their engineer and mixer, taking over from Maile) and new lead axeman Chris Burrows (replacing Kris Dollimore), who doesn’t hesitate to wield wah-wah with a modern flair. Also welcome is the increase in vocal harmonies (especially a high voice/low voice gambit not unlike Squeeze’s). End to end, a catchy, rocking album — in fact, if anything, the second half (with gems like “Something About You” and the Beatlesque psychedelic sarcasm of “I Love What’s Happening to Me”) is better than the first!