Pop pap from Pulse?

Handsworth Revolution album review

Vivien Goldman in Sounds

29 July 1978

* * *

Steel Pulse in the rehearsal studio, captured by Molly Dineen.

I started off loathing this record. Like seeing your best mate after a nose-job - sure, something might have been gained in the way of conventional ideas of beauty, but a lot of character's been lost. Steel Pulse have always looked to the Wailers as mentors and inspiration, so naturally they angled for a Wailers-type sound on their bouncy, melodic harmonies. 'Handsworth Revolution' was produced by Wailers sound man Karl Pitterson, and sure enough, there are the clear, ringing guitar sounds and cystal separation that mark 'Kaya' out from the Jamaican reggae mainstream of heavy dub and roots appeal. It's a popradio sound, strictly daytime energy. Lots of top, and even Ronnie McQueen's bass packs a trebly punch.

Playing 'Handsworth Revolution' in the office this morning has confirmed my original suspicions. All these non-reggae fans adore it, and yawn when I play the just-released-over-here Dennis Brown's 'Visions', for example. Steel Pulse's new glossy sophistication, their snazzy Abba-style syncopation, ensures that they're going to be the token crossover home grown roots band.

I've always enjoyed Steel Pulse's songs, and never had a chance to check the lyrics properly. Seeing them printed out on the badly designed sleeve - I think it's meant to portray Steel Pulse as a touch of Caribbean greenery thrusting their way through run-down Babylon City Centre, but it looks drab - proves that, appearances to the contrary, they're not the forward-thinking miltant British youth sound their image suggests.

Press interviews since their sudden boost to fame on the Sounds' 'Jah Punk' front cover story September 3, '77 indicate that the band hated being classified as the punk's favourite roots band, and maybe it's over-reaction that leads to idiocies like this quote graven in rock on the back; 'And upon her forehead was a name written - mystery Babylon the great mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth,' surrounded by a gaggle of sprucely dressed pickaninnies as 'plaintive' as any Boots Ethnic reproduction. Are they talking about Handsworth? Why are they dealing in archaic terminology bound to alienate yer average British listener, when the entire production is obviously aimed at yer average Bristish record buyer who thinks all reggae sounds the same? Aswad's 'Foreigner' Grove disco mix expresses the truth of Black/British with more clarity and passion than the whole 'Handsworth Revolution' album.

'Handsworth Revolution' is a jolly record. It's enjoyable especially before 2.00am. It sounds sterile, antiseptic, cold. That means it's not a great album, as far as I'm concerned.

Text copyright Sounds 1978, used without permission.

Home : Steel Pulse : Articles Index : E-mail

The contents of this website cannot be reproduced or copied without permission of the site author. (c) Andy Brouwer 2004