England’s music scene was a raucous dichotomy at the end of the 1970s, as is evidenced by the wide variety of music on the Cherry Red box set 1979: Revolt Into Style. While punk rock was flipped on its back, legs waving in the air with the death throes of a movement, other bands were slyly moving in to take things in a new direction. Synth-pop began taking hold, which would allow for the growth of goth music over the next decade. Some bands, however, held onto their own interpretation of rock and roll with fat guitar tones and sneering vocals. 1979: Revolt Into Style encapsulates the madness of that pivotal year with the clever juxtaposition of songs with rabidly different styles.
“You Can’t” by The Cannibals runs on an R&B derived riff and frantic harmonica playing that threatens to careen through the guard rail at any moment. It’s a wild throwback rave-up which may have influenced the early work of bands such as the Dead Milkmen.
By the same token, listen to the surgical precision of “Me! I Disconnect From You” by the Gary Numan-fronted band, Tubeway Army. Filled with audio right angles and robotic vocals, “Me! I Disconnect From You” espouses the sterile joys of deliberate isolation.
Both songs well represent the musical collision of 1979. Listened to back-to-back, it’s like comparing a wooden rollercoaster to a brutalist laboratory building. They both exist in the same world but could not be more different from each other.
Some listeners will discover familiar names on 1979: Revolt Into Style. Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Siouxsie and the Banshees all make appearances. XTC’s oddly syncopated “Making Plans for Nigel” is here, as well as “Memories” by John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols band, Public Image, Ltd.
Delightful obscurities are scattered throughout the anthology. “Night Nurse” by Fingerprintz combines low-key elements of psychedelia with its eerie tone. “Media Messiahs” by Eddie and the Hot Rods is a hot-tempered fuzz-toned condemnation of celebrity culture. “There Must Be Thousands” by The Quads cheekily addresses the effects of political oppression on the simple act of having a good time (“Well done/You took away our fun”).
As usual, Cherry Red provides extensive liner notes to help the listener connect the dots, explaining precisely why each song is important. Listening to 1979: Revolt Into Style is like taking a guided tour not only through that year but into the past and the future of British music.
Both giddy fun and seriously archival, 1979: Revolt Into Style is an excellent sampling of the diverse musical output of the time. Pick a track, any track, and the listener will find something to love in what they’re hearing. This is an essential set for lovers of that era’s music and, looking forward, the underground sounds of the 1980s.