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The Buzzcocks – Sonics In The Soul
Sonics In The Soul - Cherry Red
Manchester punk rockers The Buzzcocks are undeniable legends in the British music scene. Making a name for themselves in the late 70s and early 80s, their legacy has contributed to the sound of many generations in the local scene and beyond. Fast forward to 2022 and The Buzzcocks aren’t exactly on the top of the charts, but they have a special connection to their fanbase that has kept them alive all these years (there’s room for parallels to Bad Religion’s career trajectory here).
That being said, certain circumstances surrounding their latest album, Sonics of the Soul, have the potential to be divisive. The most significant being that the album marks the first in eight years and the first since the sudden and unexpected death of vocalist Pete Shelley. Succeeded by the band’s long standing guitarist, Steve Diggle, the band has branded the new album as the start of a “new era” for The Buzzcocks. Understandably, the community will be divided into two camps: those that feel the band should have retired with Shelley’s death (similar to what happened with No Use For A Name) and those that breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the legacy will continue.
And then of course there are those like me – an outsider that never really took too closely to the band but always respected their legacy and output. For what it’s worth, Sonics In the Soul isn’t what I thought it would be (a rough and tumble punk rock album) – but despite expectations, I ended up appreciating every minute of it.
Let’s be clear, at 67 years of age, Steve Diggle isn’t attempting to relive his youth. This is a far more mellowed out iteration of The Buzzcocks, one that begs a comparison to contemporary Bob Mould more than Husker Du. In particular, tracks like “Nothingless World” and “Can You Hear Tomorrow” feel really “alt-rocky” in that jangly, guitar led kind of way. Others like “Don’t Mess With My Brain” have a weird asymmetrical Oasis vibe. Again, not exactly something synonymous with The Buzzcocks’ legacy, but tastefully executed nonetheless. The “punkiest” tunes, like “Manchester,” “Senses Out Of Control” and “Just Gotta Let It Go,” remain very much in line with the rest of the album’s alt-rock offerings, so don’t expect any great stylistic pivots to pop up.
So where does that leave Sonics in the Soul? On somewhat of a middle ground. There really aren’t any hugely memorable tracks, but there also aren’t any deeply disappointing, throw away moments either. That being said, in most of my reviews I tend to gravitate towards lyrical exploration and situating political and social commentary. Sonics In the Soul just doesn’t offer a lot to talk about and dissect (“Experimental Farm” has an interesting premise, but still lacks any sense of profound connection).
On the whole, the album feels relatively safe – there are a few memorable chorus lines peppering the track list, but the reliance on melody and steady rhythm doesn’t offer up all that many surprises. So when all is said and done, The Buzzcocks have made a “good” album, but one that is unlikely to be remembered as a classic – even in this “new era.”