Album review: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols

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Never Mind the Bollocks stands the punk test of time, writes Scott Kara.

The Sex Pistols. Photo / Supplied
The Sex Pistols. Photo / Supplied

There's a funny photo in the booklet of this new reissue that sums up the Sex Pistols' badly behaved, cheeky and anarchic reign from 1975 until their break-up in January, 1978. It shows the band being stopped by a policeman on the street and guitarist Steve Jones pulling the fingers - yes, two fingers, not one as is tradition these days - behind the unassuming bobby's back, as a young, fresh-faced Sid Vicious looks on laughing.

They were bad, bad boys. So bad, in fact - doing things like swearing on live television and Sid farting in the face of a customs officer during a full body-search at the airport - that their behaviour often overshadowed the songs.

But as Never Mind The Bollocks proves, they played rebellious, ruthless, and downright catchy rock 'n' roll tunes. And Jones' slamming and slugging guitar licks on opener Holidays In The Sun is testament that this classic punk rock album is more than just a product of its time.

Yes, Anarchy In The UK and God Save The Queen remain the sing-along anthems, but it's songs like the unhinged Bodies (complete with an inspired profanity laden outburst by singer John Lydon), the cocky swagger of Pretty Vacant, and Holidays (written after a "cheap holiday" in West Berlin) that stand up best today.

Released in Britain on October 28, 1977, Never Mind The Bollocks went straight to No. 1 despite being banned by key retailers because of its controversial content - hey, singing "God save the Queen, she ain't no human being" is still pretty heavy these days, let alone in the late 70s.

Plus, the word "bollocks" was still deemed offensive at the time, which also made many wary of selling the record.

This two-disc deluxe edition contains the original album and four bonus B-sides, with a second disc of live material recorded during 1977 in Stockholm, and a shorter set from Penzance in Cornwall.

What stands out, over and above all of Lydon's riotous rantings and those wild guitar riffs, is the groove that comes through on the songs, thanks mostly to Jones who, as well as playing guitar did most of the pumping bass parts on the album (apart from original bass player Glen Matlock on three tracks), because Vicious was still learning his, um, craft.

One of the highlights is their six-and-a-half-minute cover of the Stooges' No Fun (a B-side to Pretty Vacant and sometimes used to close the Pistols' live sets). On it Lydon is more guttural and lecherous than ever, it sprawls on relentlessly with a wild blues-rock restlessness, and there's even moments of eerie tension at the beginning that is a nod to Lydon's post-Pistols band, Public Image Ltd.

The live disc is one for devout fans - or those that were there first time round to witness the Pistols' live chaos - because it's mostly caustic, and often tinny lo-fi noise, with Lydon's snarl the predominant factor. Although his between-song banter is worth checking out. He sounds threatening even when he's being nice.

"Having fun? Good. More," he says to the Stockholm crowd before launching into Seventeen with the sing-along chorus "I'm a lazy sod".

The album booklet is a fleeting yet hilarious history of the Sex Pistols, from silly and minor incidents like Jones having sex in the toilets of record company A&M with a secretary, to major milestones like being sacked by two record companies in quick succession, with the "stupid fools" from EMI getting a roasting on the final track of the album.

And that's the thing. The Sex Pistols took no prisoners and Bollocks remains a masterclass in rock 'n' roll rebellion, because 35 years on it still makes you want to beat your chest, snarl and, well, rip up shit.

Stars: 4.5/5
Verdict: Still giving the two-fingered salute 35 years on Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) and Paul Cook.

- NZ Herald

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