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Never Mind the Blisters: A Look at the Sex Pistols’ Only Studio Album

By Landon Balk

Clocking in at just under forty minutes is an album that – mastered three decibels quieter than the average pop song – still sounds louder than hell. One of the most unrelentingly sparse and blistering records ever produced, Never Mind The Bollocks still seems to carry a scathingly valid and spitting statement.

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As a kid, punk rock seemed to me like an old and tame taboo in contrast to the gangster rap, heavy metal, and grunge that succeeded it in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It’s interesting to note how increasingly obscene popular music has become in the last thirty years, and how our tolerance to these obscenities has been augmented over the generations. Kids are naturally attracted to the naughty things they aren’t supposed to do, and this taboo is what Never Mind The Bollocks is all about.

The fact that this album sounds harsh and cobbled together certainly lends to its appeal. An essential component of the punk rock aesthetic is the you-can-do-it-too attitude that embodies its blissfully reckless ineptitude. This, however, was no accident in the recording studio. To get the album to sound this sonically convincing was due in part by the quality and craftsmanship of the producers and engineers involved. Incidentally, one of the producers that worked on the album, Chris Thomas, previously worked as mix supervisor on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Interestingly enough punk rock served as a primal counterstatement to the sophisticated artistic gestures and virtuosic indulgences of progressive rock. Even the album’s cover and title suggests to “forget all the unnecessary embellishments and just get to the point.”

One of the greatest things about this record comes from its own humorously conscious contradictions: if they were true anarchists, how the hell could they organize, write, perform and produce a record? The Sex Pistols certainly seem to be having a great careless laugh at the seriousness taken of . . . well name anything really. This isn’t pretty music, nor is it easily digestible, but at the same time it’s not trying to be something that it isn’t. That kind of blatantly unapologetic honesty is one of the reasons this album is regarded as such a classic. It’s not contrived of itself; it’s fully aware of its own limitations and contradictions. It’s ridiculous and irreverent and obscene, but well . . . isn’t everybody?

The album ends with a fart, and I chuckle at the implications. You may not have to be as extremely outrageous or grotesque as the punk movement was known to be, but I believe what they were saying was: you’re always going to step on someone’s toes no matter what you do, so you might as well get on with it, do what you like, and enjoy yourself.

 

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