Chron Gen – This is the Age (Westworld Recordings)

Chron Gen – This is the Age (Westworld Recordings)

A game of two halves,,,

The Westworld Recordings label seems to be cornering the market in resurgent old punx at the minute, and all power to them; They’ve been a veritable treasure trove in 2016, with both excellent reissues and solid new material meaning the label has rapidly become a go-to destination for aural satisfaction.

However their re ignition of the fortunes of Letchworth’s finest, Chron Gen, is only partially successful. The first five tracks on This is the Age (their first all-new effort in over 30 years) are brilliant – unexpectedly so, If I’m honest – but the album quickly gets bogged down midway through with the band getting mired in the sort of cod reggae posturing that’s always given me the raging ache, though I know the cultural impact of two seemingly disparate subcultures was very important in the eighties. Still, you gotta take the rough with the smooth, I guess, and you can always fast forward the dross… which still leaves some pretty good material to enjoy.

Opening track Jump is simple, melodic, and pretty much perfect. Vocalist Glynn Barber adopts an alluringly downtuned Iggy Pop/Peter Murphy purr, and his allusions to ‘Strummer singing Tommy Gun’ add to the (black) summery nostalgia the track manages to portray. Following track I Love This City is pure class, the sort of hard rocking radio-friendly rock Billy Idol used to peddle in his prime – but shorn of the gonzo, coke headed stupidity. Bolstered by a slamming back beat it again has a bit of a nostalgia kick going on – In my mind at least it conjured images of dancing with cidered up goth girls with Stiv Bators obsessions in dank mid-eighties nightclubs. But I digress…

But it gets better – third track Maybe Baby keeps the same back beat from Love This City but goes beyond with the aid of some classy lead guitar work and another assured vocal from Barber. This really is mighty fine stuff – stuck in the mid eighties, for sure, but absolutely none the worse for that. It’s also not very punky, but that mantle is taken up by third track Ready to Overreact. Anthemic and with a strong anti-war lyric, it’s more immediately recognisable as the Chron Gen we used to know and love. At this point all is going well – maybe too well…

… Actually Imagination is pretty good as well, another catchy ditty that half inches the guitar motif from a Garbage song – do you really care which one? – but manages to survive thanks to another slinky Barber vocal and a frankly massive chorus. Over the first half of This is the Age Chron Gen do enough to convince you of their worth as a viable unit in 2016, but that faith is shaken a bit as the quality takes a bit of a tumble over the record’s second half.

The pub rocky I Wanna Be That Guy starts off in best Garry BushellBuzzcocks With Bollocks’ fashion and has a serviceable chorus but the slightly jokey verses just don’t work for this reviewer, being less Buzzcocks and more Rezillos, which is okay up to a point if you like that sort of thing. There’s another good guitar solo though. However it really starts to unravel on the tiresome My Pumpkin, wherein the tired dub rhythms just dissipate all the momentum the band has so assiduously worked to build up, despite some nice playing from bassist Roy Homer. Ultimately It’s poor man’s Clash – apart from the end of the track which sounds like a Police B-Side, and I’m not going to go on about it any more.

Dangerous Game also comes complete with reggae inflections, but at least weaves them in and out of some slightly more dynamic songwriting, the result being an improbable mashup of Stiff Little Fingers and venerable pub rocker Graham Parker. It’s not actively bad, but again just jars against the superb first half of the album and what the band seem to be trying to achieve on those songs. You Took Your Time doesn’t do much to arrest the attention, and then it’s reggae time again. And, strangely, Graham Parker time again. Kiss the Girls is really a soporific take on the Rumour mainman’s Don’t Ask Me Questions, without the sass or attitude, and again I feel it bringing down my fine mood set up by those opening five tracks. Maybe it’s just me? Possibly.

Still, Who’s Gonna Love Me salvages matters slightly, being at least a bit more uptempo and possessed of a beguiling vocal line on the chorus. This is what they want, or at least what I want, and final track I Don’t Care rounds things out with a singalong chorus and a spring in it’s step, leaving the listener going a way from the album with at least a partly restored positive vibe about Chron Gen and where they stand in the whole scheme of things. It’s good to have them back, and those first five tracks would have made a killer EP…

Michael Stronge

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