Like the Stranglers, the Vibrators were considerably older than the other bands comprising the London punk scene in 1977. A rudimentary quartet with a knack for insidiously catchy songs, the Vibrators — after a brief alliance with Chris Spedding, whom they backed on the first punk novelty record, “Pogo Dancing” — established themselves with a stream of clever pop singles that captured the minimalist energy (minus the inchoate anger) of their peers.
Pure Mania — with its soon-to-be-a-cliché color-Xerox artwork cover — is a treasure trove of memorable ditties that strip down pop in a parallel to the Ramones’ streamlining of it. A brilliant record, cheerful in a loopy way and filled with great fragmentary tunes and innocuously threatening lyrics.
Recorded in Berlin (briefly the band’s adopted home base), V2 features new bassist Gary Tibbs (later a Roxy Musician and Ant) and a more ambitious agenda. While some of the material is not that different from the debut LP, V2 is pretentious and overblown, following too many different cul-de-sacs to hang together.
Although trends quickly passed them by, the Vibrators trundled on until 1980. When they split up, CBS issued the Batteries Included retrospective, with such classic tunes as “Judy Says” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah.” Compiling the best tracks from the first two LPs and adding a couple of other treats, it’s an essential souvenir of the class of ’77.
The original Vibrators (Knox, Eddie, Pat Collier and John Ellis) reformed two years later and issued Guilty, an okay diversion highlighted by the name-dropping title song and a remake of “Baby, Baby,” the Vibes’ classic ’77 single. Though lacking the debut’s full-throttle punk rush, Guilty nonetheless entertains by sheer force of its elemental melodic tracks.
That same year saw the release of a solo LP by singer and chief songwriter Knox. (He has also recorded, with Charlie Harper of the U.K. Subs, as the Urban Dogs.) Unspectacular in all departments, Plutonium Express‘ banal contents are telegraphed by such song titles as “Goin’ Uptown” and “Love Is Burning.”
Alaska 127, named after bassist/producer Collier’s recording studio, is the band’s best post-reunion LP. The opener, a furious rewrite of “I Fought the Law” called “Amphetamine Blue,” sets the pace for the eleven songs that follow, all either likable lightweight pop or kick-ass hard rock.
The excitement began to wane by Fifth Amendment, which finds the group plugging away at midtempo rock with no distinguishing marks. Collier departed soon after to concentrate more on his bigtime career as a producer (Katrina and the Waves, House of Love, Soup Dragons, etc.), but did pop back around to remix and edit the band’s live album. (His replacement was engineer/soundman Noel Thompson.) Plucking songs from all the previous LPs save for Guilty, Live shrewdly concentrates on older, greatest-hits material. And while the performances are quite good, you get the feeling these guys don’t really have their hearts in it anymore. Thompson and guitarist Ellis left after Live (Ellis turned up in the 1991 edition of the Stranglers), and the band played on with two new members.
Despite the optimistic title, Recharged makes it clear the Vibrators have long since run their course. Hacking out simplistic good-timey rockers centered on stale lines like “Heart of the city/Beneath the neon light,” they create something that’s not totally awful but still a major drag in comparison to the good old days. Volume 10 is a slight improvement, thanks to virtuoso show-offy lead work from yet another new guitarist, Nigel Bennett, and some tasty sax.