On The Crack, the Ruts meld the Pistols’ instrumental attack with leader Malcolm Owen’s Strummeresque bellow; while less inspired than either of those bands, the Ruts started out with far more finesse (including nimble bass). True to their early association with reggae collective Misty in Roots (sponsor of their first 45), the Ruts often incorporated reggae riffs — adeptly, not heavy-handedly and without missing a single roughshod 4/4 stride. Simple, straightforward political lyrics are heartfelt but not strident.
The late-’80 Grin & Bear It compilation is odds’n’sods and sounds it, but the LP does contain an assortment of minor gems (including their pre-Virgin debut 45, live sides, etc.), highlighted by brilliant career-high-point single “Staring at the Rude Boys.” In short, a fitting tribute (as intended) to Owen, dead of an OD four months previously.
As Ruts D.C. (for da capo) the remaining three made saxist/keyboardist Gary Barnacle a full member. On Animal Now, personal themes of self-doubt and angst (“Despondency,” anyone?) get equal airing with the usual attacks on hypocrisy and social manipulation. It’s often gripping, but undercut by a tendency to infuse intrusive jazz-funk touches.
Minus Barnacle (who departed for session work and Leisure Process), the trio — along with the Mad Professor, a British reggae producer — cut Rhythm Collision, an LP of funk-inflected reggae in ready-made dub form, akin in concept to Dennis Bovell’s I Wah Dub. It’s a sharp, sometimes powerful, sometimes catchy piece of work, with saxist Dave Winthrop (ex-Secret Affair) and one Mitt (harmonica) supplying additional shades to the dark-hued mood. In 1987, the long-deleted record was reissued on cassette, with a credit that played up the reggae connection, as Rhythm Collision Dub Vol. 1.
Although Ruts D.C. stopped working in 1983, archival releases keep on appearing. Joy Division and the Ruts were BBC DJ John Peel’s two favorite bands, so it’s fitting they’ve both been remembered in the Peel Sessions EP series. The Ruts’ artifact from May 1979 unfortunately doesn’t debut any long-lost material, and the versions sound too similar to the tracks on The Crack to get worked up about it, but it nevertheless documents a great band.
The Ruts Live and Live and Loud!!, on the other hand, fail to document anything. Though both are legal releases, they sound like bootlegs; the muddy audio falls far short of capturing what was an explosive live band. In particular, Live and Loud gets the concert right, but used the wrong tape: the live track recorded at the Marquee on the UK edition of The Crack sounds great, but the same concert, as presented here, is of dodgy quality. Until a true live artifact can be excavated and released, these two are for scholars only.
While filled with inarguably great music, the CD-only You Gotta Get Out of It, is one screwed-up package. The material (all of The Crack plus half of Grin & Bear It) is haphazardly intermingled, “West One” (the band’s epic swan song) is twice listed as “West On” and the notes confuse the two LP titles, incorrectly identifying the tracks’ original sources. Bizarrely, the same label that released the Ruts’ albums in the first place is responsible for this inexcusable mess. Perhaps to correct its folly, Virgin later issued a proper CD of The Crack with the original sleeve artwork, following its twelve songs with the three B-sides (including the Damned-inspired “I Ain’t Sofisticated”) omitted from Grin & Bear It.
The Peel Sessions Album renders the series’ EP obsolete, adding two sessions of far more archival merit that offer genuinely different views of familiar songs. The “Savage Circle” here blisters with a more staccato attack; “Dope for Guns” is far faster and meaner; “In a Rut” gets entirely new treatment. A sterling document of the second punk wave’s most explosive band.