For its 40th anniversary, this sublime new edition from WeThree has been remastered from the original tapes and pressed onto marble vinyl, adorned by new art from founding members Gina Birch and Ana da Silva
Forty years ago (Nov. 21, 1979, to be exact), The Raincoats’ self-titled album debuted via Rough Trade Records.
It heaved art-damaged punk rock further into left field with its drearier take on urban alienation and the freeform possibilities created after classically trained violinist Vicky Aspinall joined forces with founding members Ana da Silva and Gina Birch.
Album opener “No Side to Fall In” and the angsty “Life on the Line” sound more like impromptu skiffle tunes than earnest stabs at redesigning rock music. “The Void,” a song covered by Hole in 1994, alters baroque pop through a DIY filter while grasping the emptiness that comes with seeking social acceptance. The aggressive, pulsating “You’re a Million” resides in the same hellscape as The Pop Group’s most bizarre sendups of funk and jazz. And that’s just four notably bizarre tunes— none of which sound completely alike.
Selections closer to pop song structures yet no less groundbreaking include “Off Duty Trip,” a cut about soldiers which features former Slits drummer Palmolive mimicking a firing squad, and the classic slow burner “In Love.” Another well-told tale of urban alienation, “Fairytale in the Supermarket,” was an early single that’s appeared on the album ever since Rough Trade’s 1993 CD reissue.
The real barometer of both creative genius and outright weirdness, though, is “Adventures Close to Home.” The song also appears on The Slits’ Cut album and was brought to The Raincoats camp by Palmolive.
For those unfamiliar with or unimpressed by The Slits, consider this: Although their mostly male counterparts talked a good game about hating rock stars, most UK punk bands associated with ’76 and ‘77 simply reclaimed the two-and-a-half-minute pop song while paying ramshackle homages to their glam heroes. The Slits, on the other hand, made music that completely defied pop expectations and proved once and for all that anyone of any skill level can start a band. Mix that with the improvisational talents of X-Ray Spex and Essential Logic saxophonist Lora Logic, and you’ve got Kurt Cobain’s beloved Raincoats.
While The Slits’ classic version of “Adventures Close to Home” fits their obsession with reggae and world music, the song about searching for answers in a discouraging world just as well suits The Raincoats’ herky-jerky rhythms and haunting harmonies. This isn’t sports and one band doesn’t have to “beat” the other, but it’s telling when one all-time great ties another in regulation.
Despite all this talk about The Raincoats and others shunning rock idolatry, the most streamed song off the first album by far is a cover of The Kinks’ “Lola.” By torching through such an outlandish song, which has unquestionably aged better than Aerosmith’s cringey “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” The Raincoats saved it from classic rock radio purgatory and made it easily discoverable for young punks around the globe.
Bolstered by this latest edition, The Raincoats’ debut edited the ever-changing blueprint for creative expression still consulted by punk rockers uninterested in embracing norms and itching to rant about what’s dragging down their peers (student loan debt, in all likelihood, and not the perils of squatting).
AUDIO: The Raincoats (full album)