It seems slightly odd that for a band who snarled “No Future” that forty years after their one and only studio album they should be still be constantly examined and written about.
Or maybe it was deeply prophetic: that pop is so obsessed with its past that it repackages it constantly and there is a lot less of a future because it can’t shake off its past.
The reality is that Never Mind The Bollocks remains one hell of a thrilling ride. This issue is itself a re-issue of what has become regarded as the definitive issue which was first issued as a limited edition in 2012.
It opens – rather provocatively, being the Pistols – with what sounds like jackboots marching, and straight into ‘Holidays In The Sun.’ While it and the three other singles ‘Anarchy In The UK’ ‘God Save The Queen’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’ may well be the strongest things here, it is worth noting that they are classics, and essential entries in the rock canon.
Some songs may seem rather slight on their own – ‘Seventeen’ with its chorus of “I’m a lazy sod” could be a lesser band, but all tracks together combine the yobbishness and art school, the very filth and fury (as a newspaper heading about the band had it) to make up a package that was repellant to some and irresistible to others.
‘Bodies’ – supposedly the only song Sid Vicious actually played on on the album – still terrifies, all the more so, given that it was reportedly written about a real Sex Pistols fan. ‘EMI’ which closes the album was the riposte to the label which had dumped the band after they’d sworn on live TV (oooh! Controversial for 1976) gives the album a fabulous close.
The b-sides (as they do at their best) stand-up for themselves. Their version of The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’ matches the Pistols musical snarl, yet opens with hints of the dub reggae that John Lydon loved and would explore with his next (and arguably more interesting and adventurous) Public Image Ltd. ‘Satellite’ and ‘Did You No Wrong’ are strong songs in themselves.
I probably am not the only one who still cringes at ‘Belsen Was A Gas.’ The Wikipedia entry acknowledges that it’s a highly controversial song. It’s a demo version that appears here – while it may have been written more to shock the older generation than to offend, Lydon is amongst those who have acknowledged that it crosses into bad taste. I could live without it reappearing.
For a band who supposedly couldn’t play, the demos and live material may show some sign that they were in need of polishing, but that they were probably more competent than they may have wanted some to believe. It’s perhaps telling that on the Norwegian gig on the third disc after ‘New York’ Lydon can be heard telling the crowd “Alright? Just stop the fucking spitting, I don’t like being spat at.” It may have been perceived as part of the ritual – yet (totally understandably) something he didn’t wish to be part of.
Whether there will be more re-issues of the album remains to be seen. But Never Mind stands as a fantastic blast of anger and fun that has not withered over four decades.