Album Review: The Vibrators – On the Guest List

One argument that’s endlessly trotted out is that 70s punk rock – especially the UK version of it – was a musical reaction to the self-important, overblown pomposity of much of that era’s arena rock. And while there’s an element of truth to that argument, many of the punk wave’s best acts were unafraid to take a hint or two from what was good about what had come before. Joe Strummer‘s pre-Clash group The 101ers, for example, sounded a lot like Star Club-era Beatles. And Billy Idol‘s first group Generation X went so far as to wear their influences on their (torn) sleeves, with tracks like “Your Generation” (I mean, c’mon) and a cover of John Lennon‘s “Gimme Some Truth.”

Along with groups like The Stranglers, the direct yet melodic side of UK punk included The Vibrators. While the original lineup lasted just over three years (1976-1980), they turned out some catchy tunes, and had fun doing it. Several members reunited a few years later, and released a string of albums. Now in 2013, two of the original lineup (singer/guitarist Knox and drummer Eddie) are joined by two other ace players, plus former Vibrator Pat Collier behind the production console, for a new release titled On the Guest List. And – this is the part that makes the album especially notable – a long list of friends and associates drop by to lend a hand.

Such endeavors can go one of two ways. Oftentimes when a band brings in a lengthy guest list, it’s a slightly pathetic bid for relevance. “I’m still here,” it often screams. But when – as with On the Guest List – the songs on offer are a mix of thirteen high quality new tunes alongside a trio of remakes, that’s a good sign.

The funny thing is, these songs don’t really seem to even need the guests, impressive though they are. Whether it’s MC5‘s Wayne Kramer on “Prisoner in the Mirror,” Ty Segall on “Automatic Lover” or The Vibrators’ old pal Chris Spedding on “2nd Skin,” the end result still sounds like nothing else but the Vibrators.

And that’s just fine. Buzzsaw guitars are joined by singalong choruses led by the gruff Knox. The production style is clean and straightforward, befitting these grandfathers of the punk scene. No keyboards but lots (and lots and lots) of guitar is what listeners will find within On the Guest List. That list includes members of other key acts from the late 70s: Die Toten Hosen, The Dictators, U.K. Subs and the aforementioned Stranglers), and the resulting collection offers winning cuts like “Baby Baby” and the rife-with-riffage “Birdland is Closed.” And “Rock ‘N’ Roll Clown” shows that The Vibrators can do country-influenced rock as well as, say, The Blasters if they wanna. (Dash Rip Rock‘s Bill Davis helps out.) Unsafe at any speed, “The Ohio” careens wildly, as does a remake of early single “Whips and Furs.”

Fans of punk and of straight-ahead rock are advised to get On the Guest List. Recommended.

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