The Messthetics series shows what happened in the UK as the first wave of British punk bands either imploded, or sold out to commercialism, and a new breed of untrained musicians picked up guitars and adopted punk’s “anyone can do it” attitude. The bands documented on these albums looked up to the lo-fi punk of groups like The Television Personalities and The Swell Maps the way the bands on Nuggets looked up to The Rolling Stones and The Who. “Best Of” handpicks some of the most interesting moments from the series, though it must be said that most of the songs are absolutely terrible: many of the bands could barely play their instruments, the recording quality is dreadful, and staying on-key seems to be the furthest thing from everyone’s mind. Normally this would be the death knell of an album, but for Messthetics bands, amateurism was the point, and as a document of amateurism the album succeeds completely. It’s one of the rare cases where the liner notes are more fun than the actual music. After all, you haven’t really lived until you’ve read about bands like Thin Yoghurt, Danny and The Dressmakers, and the sublimely named Scrotum Poles, all of whom fell apart almost as soon as they formed. A good document of bad music.
The latest volume of Messthetics covers DIY rarities from UK’s Midlands region from various 7″ and cassettes spanning 1977-1981. As with other volumes in the series, #103 is a tribute to those misfit souls inspired by the “anyone can do it” attitude of punk who gave it a go for themselves. Although many of the groups documented here had no idea what they were doing when they recorded these songs (even if Swell Maps and Spizzoil went on to bigger things), they did it anyway and that’s probably what the punk movement was all about in the first place. The spirit and enthusiasm is interesting to soak up, but they can only take you so far, and at the end of the day there’s over an hour of music here, and very little of it is enjoyable. When compared to the tuneless musings of The Shapes and 021, The Clash and The Sex Pistols sound as polished as the “dinosaur” rock bands that they were supposedly replacing.