Punk is dead, or so the horrible cliché goes. On the surface, it’s actually not a hard argument to make: punk as a style is thought of by many as being the music purveyed by the likes of Green Day (not punk now, if they ever were), Rancid (punk, but not really mainstream enough to be considered musically essential, at least outside the genre) and Bad Religion (top class, but dated). It’s also arguable that the entire original ethos of the genre – anti-establishment, acceptance and doing things for yourself – now falls more firmly at the feet of other genres. While the charts, for the most part at least, ramble on about the criminally inane, the most popular protest singers of the modern era might well be the likes of Scroobius Pip (hip hop), Morrissey (argumentative, yes, but he doesn’t represent the view of too many, it seems) and the ever-brilliant Billy Bragg (you might even argue he has a bit of the punk rocker in him). In Ireland, with the exception of a politically charged album from The Rags last year – a decent effort lyrical content wise, but far from compulsive listening – I’m yet to come across a (popular) band that seems to carry any genuine attempt to address the way this country is falling apart. I’d be delighted, of course, if this little ramble led to me being proved wrong, but as far as I can work out, Paranoid Visions are a pointed exception to the apolitical rule.
I grew up on punk. Well, I say punk; after going through a phase when I genuinely thought Alanis Morissette and Oasis were world class (and a few far more embarrassing acts that I’ll spare myself the mention of – I was barely a teenager), I thought The Damned were the best thing since sliced bread, became obsessed with Lars Frederickson and The Bastards, The Gadjits, Rancid and Bad Religion, and spent most weekends down at the local art centre listening to skate punk and ska punk acts play a series of gigs bizarrely titled ‘The Millennium Bug Balls’. Another one of my obsessions – perhaps a bigger one, if anything – was a local ska punk act called ‘Spankboy’. They specialized in the ska-punk tradition of ‘the funnel’, which saw them play backing tracks while audience members necked entire bottles of cider through a tube contraption on stage, and eventually had to change their name to ‘The Solabeat Alliance’ after a legal challenge from a porn website. What I loved about them, though, was that they understood the local mentality, not least Salisbury’s fierce and sometimes violent disagreements between the punk and… well, for one of a better description, chav communities, and summed up their distaste in songs like ‘Oi Trendy’ and ‘XR3i’ (a reference to a particular model of Ford Escort favoured by some locals that climaxed with the pointed chorus line ‘XR3i why don’t you fuck off and die’). It wasn’t world class, by any means, but they went a long way locally simply by being so relevant and relatable to their crowd. That’s exactly what Paranoid Visions are doing in Dublin.
Of course, I wouldn’t argue for one second that music necessarily has to reflect the place it comes from, or has to be at all political, but I do wonder why, given the state of modern day Ireland, there doesn’t seem to have been an real musical ‘stepping up’ to the political crisis. Paranoid Visions – who it’s worth remembering are nearly 30 years old as band and a little way from the popular heart of the modern day Dublin scene – seem to be the first band to have done so. I’m a fan of the new EP in general, but I’ll also be singing their praises from the hilltops for the lyrics: simply being the act that have finally stepped up and had a proper political rant.
Here’s why the new EP “Outsider Artist”, for me, makes a genuine argument for Paranoid Visions being the voice of our financial downfall:
They pull no punches.
Oddly enough, Outsider Artist’s three studio tracks are actually more about standing proud (in the title track, for example, they sing “so this is why I cling to punk, this is why my life is fun, I stand out here amongst the sheep, so hear me laugh out loud”), yet it does so in a way that’s miles short of obnoxious, simply self-justifying and feisty. It’s critical and thought provoking (“I’m an angry mixed-up quagmire in the sea of human dross, where everyone’s the enemy…”). It encapsulates an anger and a bitterness that I’m frankly surprised isn’t more pervasive in modern day Irish music. It also applies it in a great way…
They’re uniquely, pointedly Irish, and their lyrics take on the country’s story, cynically…
Which should be a given, sure, but when you’re talking political protest it’s also more than a little important. See Spankboy, above, who probably wouldn’t even have grabbed my attention had they been singing about hanging American flags upside down. Sure, I cringe a little when they pronounce that punk staple ‘Cheap Thrills’ as ‘Cheap Trills’ in the middle of one of the live tracks, but its honest, and in a world of Americanized pop punk that could hardly be more important. With thirty years of experience behind them, too, they’ve seen the bad times, the good times, and now the bad times again, and you can hear every ounce of it in their songs. As Neill Hannon says in ‘The National Anthem’ “first we were poor, then we were rich, now we are poor again” – and Paranoid Visions have been a band through it all, and hinted at it throughout their lifespan. Listen to Paranoid Visions back catalogue and you can hear it in every ounce of their storytelling. See ‘High Cost Of Living’ (“The bad old days are here again, the population’s rising, now Bertie sits on Charlie’s thrown and Irish eyes are crying”) or ‘New Dark Ages’ (“Get ready for the new dark ages, the credit crunch and the banking crisis, all around is breaking down, capitalism is on the ground. Who’s winning? Well it’s plain to see, not the people like you and me, we’re the victims of the rich man’s greed, the scapegoats of society”).
It’s unashamedly political
Sometimes I feel, living in Ireland, that the political situation has got so downright embarrassing that people are almost afraid to say anything about it, because, well, it speaks for itself, right? I’m not even Irish and things like the ‘democracy’ of the Lisbon treaty and the double standards for businesses depending on how much they’re worth make my skin crawl. If we’re sick of talking about this kind of thing, how re we going to change it? And sure, there’s still a minority soldiering on (respect to those down at #occupydamestreet), but far too many people seem to have settled on ‘it is what it is’. Sure, it’s not my country, maybe I should just butt out, but hey, I’m paying taxes here, too, and at this point I wouldn’t be averse to mass protests every single time the government reels out another stupid financial decision. Let’s see bankers bonuses and bond holder payouts continue then (I mean really, are we really working on the basis that an investment should no longer be a ‘risk’? If so, I’d like a few investments I’ve made at the bookies over the last few years paid back, please, Mr Kenny). Punks always had an angry, ‘rise up and don’t let them shaft you’ element, and listening to the EP, you feel like Paranoid Visions would be stood right next to you if people decided to really stand up and voice their concerns. At times, their music seems like a vehicle through which to express that anger above all else.
It’s ignoring every trend in the book
Let’s face it, Paranoid Visions are a punk band, that’s what they’re supposed to do, but too few actually do. As far as I can work out, though, aside from the odd visiting foreign behemoth, the Dublin punk scene is disappointingly weak, and based largely around The Gypsy Rose pub and a handful of other little venues. Frankly, the scene in Salisbury – a city so insignificant half the locals call it Smallsbury -was more impressive. It certainly seems to have very limited written support (I’d love to hear otherwise, by the way, so if you know differently…). Nearly thirty years after starting, though, Paranoid Visions aren’t ready to lay own and die, especially in the face of total political upheaval. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their various reunions coincide with political disaster zones, and they’re just so brilliantly, righteously angry. Not a hint of soul-searching shoe gaze or electro-pop or throwaway pop. People probably won’t watch them, as they’re a punk band in an era when we’re all going crazy over synth bleepiness (who am I to argue, I’m doing the same), but like the style or not, we need something like this.
The EP’s priced to spread the message.
The very reason I brought the new EP in the first place is simple: it’s an eleven track album from a more than competent band priced at €1.99. Sure, only three of them are new and studio recorded efforts, but tacking on eight tracks of bootleg material is a genius idea (it reminds me of the old Less Than Jake ploy to ‘Bootleg a Bootleg and Cut Out the Middleman’ – selling bootleg CDs at basically cost price through their own label, only to cut out the old profiteering cassette and CD-ripped live copies, back when downloads weren’t realistic). Someone else has already done the recording, why not tack them on the empty CD space? Selling at €1.99, I’d be amazed if Paranoid Visions are actually making anything out of the EP, but the point seems to be that people listen to it, not to bring in cash. Given the pure cynicism I see in, for example, the overpriced Florence and the Machine album (priced for Christmas), this alone is worthy of a lot of respect.
Convinced? Paranoid Visions play The Gypsy Rose (what did I tell you…) on the 27th of October as part of a punk weekender. They’ll be supporting a band I still remember seeing play the old Salisbury Art Centre a good 10-12 years ago, Citizen Fish, and day tickets for those shows are €10 (or €15 for the weekend). If you don’t head to that, at least go and spend half your sandwich money on the new EP in Tower Records, and eat a banana for lunch instead. Hell, I could use the weight loss, and these guys clearly, really care. Bring on the fury…