Lurching into existence during the original 1977 explosion of pre-commercial London punk, the all-female Slits wrested the anyone-can-make-a-band-so-why-not-do-it-yourself ethos away from the traditionally no-women-allowed punk-rock brotherhood and unselfconsciously paraded their stunningly amateur rock noise with the enthusiastic support of the Clash and other sensible compatriots. While on the road as part of a punk package tour, the Slits were immortalized in all their primitive glory in The Punk Rock Movie. Looking back at the group’s tentative beginnings now, it’s clear that while the Slits may have been truly awful, they weren’t much worse than many of their male contemporaries, and undoubtedly a damn sight better and smarter than some.
It was probably fortunate, however, that several years elapsed before the Slits got around to recording a debut album; by the time they reached the studio, Viv Albertine guitar), Ari Upp (vocals) and Tessa (bass), joined by drummer Budgie (later of Siouxsie and the Banshees), had become reasonably competent players. Spare and rudimentary but bursting with novel ideas and rampant originality, Cut — brilliantly produced by reggae powerhouse Dennis Bovell — forges a powerful white-reggae hybrid that serves as a solid underpinning for Ari Upp’s wobbly, semi-melodic vocals.
Retrospective (so-called; the LP actually has no title) is a coverless authorized bootleg consisting of early (pre-reggae) studio doodles and live tracks that should really have stayed in the can (or wherever).
Return of the Giant Slits, released originally with a bonus 45 featuring an extra track and an interview with the band (both appended to the cassette version) turned towards African, rather than Jamaican rhythms, and attempted to make the Slits slightly more commercially accessible.
The Peel Sessions EP dates from September 1977 and includes “Vindictive” as well as three previews of Cut material; the second release combines that session with a second — three more future album tracks, ending up with a bunch of random radio noise — recorded in April ’78. The bracing performances have their own scratchy power, but the main value of these recordings is as further proof of the role Bovell (and time and practice) played in making the Slits a really appealing musical proposition.
From a January 1978 show in Paris, Live at the Gibus Club is an enthusiastic and well-recorded demonstration of the Slits’ raucous charm. The I-was-there liner notes by Don Letts are an added pleasure.