The Newtown Neurotics began in the late ’70s in Harlow (just north of London) as a brave trio who still thought punk could be something other than a spent force. Singer/guitarist Steve Drewett must have been inspired by early punk’s willingness to discuss politics, as his socialist-flavored lyrics — never overbearing — have been grouped with those of Easterhouse, Billy Bragg, Three Johns and Housemartins.
For rockin’ humdingers influenced by a synthesis of everything cool in early punk — Ramones to the Clash to mid-period Undertones — Beggars Can Be Choosers is a blast from the past, punk with extraordinary get-up-and-go that’s both fun-sounding and sharp-edged. Drewett’s social commentary is at its best, from the “sexual double standards” in “No Respect” to his version of the Members’ “Solitary Confinement,” redone with a clever twist as “Living with Unemployment.” Punk-reggae is even handled competently on “Newtown People.”
By ’86, the Neurotics had dropped their Newtown and had come up with a different sound. The (mostly) moderate tempos, restrained guitar and other refinements (such as the addition of blaring Stax horns) on the engaging Repercussions showed the Neurotics could broaden their appeal without changing their message. “This Fragile Life” condemns the Falklands War through the story of a young woman widowed by it; “(Fanatical) Sects” takes the piss out of religious extremists. But the bulk of the record concerns the families of striking miners, to whom the LP is dedicated.
Is Your Washroom Breeding Bolsheviks continues this progress. The rock-soul-mod hybrid has advanced to a point where the Neurotics sometimes sound like a Motown group, with more wild brass and keyboards. (Ex-Member Chris Payne chips in.) “An Inch Away,” a breathless number about women victimized by domestic violence, shows that Drewett can still pair sadness and hard-pop with great success; “Local News” proves they can also crank up the attack on demand.
The brilliant-sounding Kickstarting a Backfiring Nation was recorded live — with no overdubs — in the studio before an audience. Selections draw from the first two LPs, plus the Flamin Groovies’ “Shake Some Action” redone as “Take Strike Action,” again for the miners. The record also contains poetic contributions, recorded live the same evening, by Atilla the Stockbroker, the Big J, Porky the Poet and Peter Campbell. Their rants identify them as offspring of John Cooper Clarke; the subject matter is entirely commensurate with the Neurotics’ and fills out this fine package. (The LP was released on a joint cassette with Repercussions.)
The Never Thought 12-inch contains five live tracks on the flipside.
The group soldiered on bravely until October ’88 when bassist Colin Dredd developed pleurisy and had to quit. The Neurotics got a friend to play bass, and did a string of three-hour farewell shows, performing every song they’d ever released! 45 Revolutions a Minute: Singles 1979 — 1984 compiles the group’s 45s (A- and B-sides), none of which had previously appeared on album. These tracks are among the band’s most humorous (e.g., “Where Are You When I Need You,” an ode to a disappearing penis; “Licensing Hours,” a dig at Britain’s pub curfew) and most angrily political (“Kick Out the Tories,” “Mindless Violence,” “When the Oil Runs Out”). Although one single is omitted — “Blitzkrieg Bob” (with original lyrics about bombing raids) and its two flip sides, a remake of an earlier track and another Ramones cover — 45 Revolutions substitutes two previously unissued outtakes. An excellent collection. As the sleeve notes, “File under good pop on bad budgets.”
Drewett and Mac have since formed the Indestructible Beat, mating the Neurotics’ guitar pulse with reggae and African flavors.