To be sure, few bands can lay claim to the thoroughbred punk rock pedigree that Buzzcocks can. Regardless of the manner in which any post-1989 material might be received, they have unquestionably cemented their place in the annals of Rock history as one of the most important musical catalysts to the first wave punk movement. 1976 seems like a million years ago (hell, it was the year of this author's birth) --- quite a span indeed, sparked with the Time's Up bootleg--- a span that now brings us to Buzzcocks' sixth full-length studio release, Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006).
Flat-Pack Philosophy, in light of the fact that much of its rhythmic content is pressed into a mid-tempo rock format, nevertheless plays through with a palpable, upbeat buoyancy. Here, the classic Buzzcocks' energy, in terms of both music and words, has been conspicuously tempered with a distinct maturity. Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle seem to have swapped their trademark neurotic, inflammatory angst for an oblique vein of matured, adult perspective. From the production end, Tony Barber walks away from "Flat-Pack Philosophy" with a fairly grand feather for his cap. The production is broad but not reverberative in excess, close but not stuffy, fleshy, and clean without coming over as sterile. Barber's productive garment suits these songs well, giving momentum to the lock-tight ryhthm section, while adding life and colour to the interplay between the guitars.
The musical bedrock of Flat-Pack Philosophy should come as no surprise, even to a casual Buzzcocks fan. The Shelley-Diggle song-smithing axis agreeably reinforces what Buzzcocks have become renowned for--- an utterly uncanny marriage between spastic punk edginess and an irresistibly contagious grasp of bubble gum melody, that flourishes firmly in a quirky middle-realm between The Clash and The Ramones. It would appear that the title track and the single "Wish I Never Loved You" (both penned by Pete Shelley) were given the first and second spots in the recording's track listing to serve as an immediate reminder to the listener of what Buzzcocks' bread and butter has always been--- bristling guitars which are lively, rowdy, unaffected, and down to earth, paired up with brightly keyed, harmonizing vocals, replete with the proverbial background ooohs and aaahs that nod back to the neonatal days of Rock and Roll.
"Sell You Everything", the recording's third track, establishes a refreshing trend which can be heard throughout the span of Flat-Pack Philosophy, that although Steve Diggle penned five out of its fourteen tracks, his contributions hoisted up the release with some of its strongest compositions. From the gruff delivery on the musical ruckus of "Sell You Everything" and "Soul Survivor", to the Rockabilly slap of "Between Heaven and Hell" (the recording's closing song), the weight of Steve Diggle's song crafting presence can be evenly felt throughout Flat-Pack Philosophy. The weaker material on the album manages to balance out in a similar manner. Where one encounters average, though not disagreeable tracks, such as "I Don't Exist", "Dreamin", or "Sound of a Gun", along comes a stout reprieve in the form of "Big Brother Wheels", the big-hearted, warm hook of "Reconciliation"--- and the insanely and disturbingly irresistible "Credit".
The verdict: This is solid work from one of the most influential bands of the past thirty years. True enough; with age Buzzcocks' juvenile anxieties have been set to the side for Flat-Pack Philosophy, but this gesture was made in favor of an offering that plays out as a matured, modernized nod to the pre-Woodstock rock that supplied the first wave of punk with its initial musical inspiration in the first place.
Nicely done, Mr. Shelley and Mr. Diggle. My hat is off to you.