TV TUBE HEART remains one of the great unique first generation punk albums. With a very assured sense of itself, the record stands up to reappraisal and scrutiny 40 years after the fact. Much of what has been written about the Radiators places the debut firmly in the shadow of the sophomore, but both records throw an equal punch well above their weight – just in very different ways.
This 40th anniversary edition on Chiswick is a welcome opportunity to dig into what, for a casual acquaintance, may be a deceptively straight ahead punk debut – But only the most contrary ears would fail to concede just how multi-faceted it actually is. The package consists of a digital re-master, a live in the studio session, some other juicy extras to nerd out on and an accompanying 24-page booklet.
As a Dublin record, TV TUBE HEART is marinated in a distinct frustration. All that was festering and stale about the Irish psyche in the dirty 70’s still clings to it like a fog of beige and a stubborn ming of carbolic soap. The exhaustive details of this are largely addressed in Michael Mary Murphy’s excellent cultural essay in the booklet… it mentions Loughlan House, Horslips and Whizzer & Chips in the same piece of writing and therefore can be taken as authoritative.
As an alternative to conducting another dissection of the socio-economic backdrop, it is fascinating to consider how the album sits amongst its contemporaries. Released October 7th 1977, TV TUBE HEART rubs shoulders with the first run of late 70’s wave punk albums – debuts by the Sex Pistols, Heartbreakers, The Damned, Wire, the Stranglers, Suicide, Talking Heads and others. What makes each of these records unique in their own individual way is that none of them were technically products of punk. As forerunners leading the charge into new music, they were not reared, inbred, coerced or otherwise influenced predominantly by punk. Each band curated references in a pre-punk/proto-punk environment and arrived in their own creative space.
The Heartbreakers – LAMF always seemed like the great “could have/should have” of the era, but was inevitably lost in a mud of woeful production, destructive personal habits and a feeling that it glanced in the rear view mirror of rock’n’roll too often to be genuinely part of something new. By comparison, the reinventions of Wire, Talking Heads and Suicide were disparate, not just to the frenetic rock’n’roll elements of early punk, but also to each other. It all somehow fit within a ballpark called punk… blame journalists or whoever for this and what would eventually become the spotifisation of our musical tastes!
The Radiators seemed like polar opposites to many of their rear view mirror pub rock label mates at Chiswick. Aiming their crosshairs forward instead of glancing back or fetishizing the past, they were the label’s best representation of a new ideology. Placed alongside the key debuts of the year, TV TUBE HEART stands out for its enduring uniqueness. Reasons for this undoubtedly include isolation in Ireland during the incubation of the band and a strong sense of thematic localisation. Their development was unbastardised by the pressures of media or being a bit player in a larger scene dominated by the mythology of the Sex Pistols.
From the opening clatter of Television Screen to the closing diatribe of Party Line, this digital re-master treats TV TUBE HEART with great respect. These things can often go so wrong – there’s been an awful lot of online noise about re-master disasters in the recent Bowie box set. But here, the glorious thin sound of the original album is retained and individual elements are separated out to great effect. The duality vocals in particular benefit in a way that they never could on a 40 year old chunk of vinyl. Basically, the album has had a good hard scrub and has never sounded better!
The re-master also provides a new clarity to Mark Megaray’s fluid bass lines, undoubtedly the unsung backbone of the record. He brought a musical sophistication to the mix that expanded on the structural basics, all the while retaining service to the songs and never overstating obvious ability. A join-the-dots bassist would have rendered the record vastly inferior. In that respect, the results are a no-competition match for anything Bruce Thomas laid down on early Attractions records.
But for enthusiasts, the real gold here is the previously unissued “Live in the Studio” session. When official recordings of cherished albums morph into audio wallpaper after years of repeated listening, archive fodder like this is a fascinating listen… it’s the equivalent of getting an album length peel session as an extra. I feel utterly spoilt!
Other fine extras include versions of BLITZIN AT THE RITZ and NOT TOO LATE with a Steve Rapid vocal and a great cassette recording of 5 tracks from 21/9/77 at the Vortex, the band’s London debut. Single versions of TELEVISION SCREEN, LOVE DETECTIVE and PSYCHOTIC REACTION round things off nicely, although for a thorough view of this era of the Radiators, reference also has to be made to the covers included as extras on the ALIVE-ALIVE-O! CD… Much to my dismay, here’s no HUCKLEBUCK here!