At the Chelsea Nightclub finds the Members using punk as a jumping-off point, but that doesn’t tell the whole musical story. Incipient instrumental smarts and simple tunes nailed down by infectious, above-average riffs countered the rough-edged delivery and Nicky Tesco’s one-o’-the-lads vocals. The themes — mainly variations on the suburban kid in the city getting streetwise fast — are framed in mischievous yet endearing (even corny) humor. The album’s added bonus is that it contains one of the first, and even now best, white punk ventures into reggae (including, on the US pressing, the subsequent “Offshore Banking Business” single). Thoroughly entertaining.
The second album, however, signaled the advent of a downswing from which the band never really recovered. The material seems thin — a cover of ex-Pink Fairy Larry Wallis’ “Police Car” is far and away the most memorable track — and any spark and grit the band might have mustered is sterilized by Rupert Hine’s production. (The first LP was produced by Steve, the brother of the Members’ drummer, Adrian Lillywhite.)
Working with Martin Rushent, the Members’ comeback — after a layoff which some mistook for a breakup — sounded for real, first on the teaser EP (one extra track on the US version) and then more substantially on Uprhythm, Downbeat. Besides the crisp, full sound, the quintet had grown to a septet with a pair of horns, and the music integrated funk and rap in addition to reggae. No longer humorous, lyrics instead alternate social critiques/rallying cries with personal traumas, at which they prove less adept, but the music is more powerful and danceable than ever. Inspired touch: reggaefication of Kraftwerk’s “The Model.” (Uprhythm, Downbeat was later released in the UK as Going West. The cassette version has extra tracks.)