Review: Paul Morley, NME Sep 1979

As The Slits sing-song: don’t take it seriously.

The people who do take it seriously are those who look down their noses at the Banshees and chew the cud over The Slits. Not that I mind. I know what I like, and I know why I like it, and it’s very personal.

Liking Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Slits may make me a bad person, but I don’t feel a bad person. I may not agree with everything the needlessly cryptic Banshees and contemptuously mocking Slits have to say, but i love and like these records because they don’t make me complacent. They confuse me and antagonise me, worry me and inspire me. They make me restless where other records make me comfy.
They’re works of ultimate, uncompromising selfishness, selfishness that pushes them outward not inward. Both records are the works of scared young people trying too hard to make sense of life, I can get off on that. There are passions on these records: love, hate, greed, vanity, ambition, jealously, cruelty, tenderness.

These records are not bland. Which is something to say. Because the Banshees’ potent skimming primitivism has been smoothed out as if wrapped in polythene and The Slits sound positively cultivated. Yet the passion is still there. So now that everyone in that corner has dutifully discussed the warm currents running around the new periods of Dylan, Morrison and Newman, let’s wake up and fall in love! After the academic titillation of those limping rock rebels – i like the stuff actually, but then i read Charlie Dickens – let’s twist and shout, let’s move.

After all, this is rock’n’roll. Room for everyone. When Bob Dylan found God, The Slits found Dennis Bovelle. The latter affair is a far more momentous occasion, at least if you care more about the sound of self realisation in rock’n’roll than you do about the verses.

The images that revolve around in mind about other Slits in other times tend towards the messy but exhilarating, random but wounding. The Slits’ wayward growth has been sketched in through Peel sessions and scattered gigs. The low point of their difficult slide to the surface was in the closing months of last year, when fruitfully seemed to have sealed their development. Their petulance then verged on self-parody. If those jaded Slits had appeared on record, onlookers would have wondered what the fuss was about. Whatever happened in the early months of this year is mysterious but gratifying. It can hardly be merely Dennis Bovelle that has wrought such a radical transformation. Because ‘Cut’ is not just the old depraved Slits thread through the fracturing, layering Bovelle machinery; things have obviously been tidied up before Bovelle’s contribution.

The things have always been associated with The Slits – impatience, opinionation, playfulness – have not been lost or discarded, but with discipline have become more pointed and nurtured, allied to a curious lightness and disconcerting areas of soft whimsy. How much of the new light and shade, highs and lows Slits is due to Bovelle is open to debate. Is this in fact a Dennis Bovelle record?

But debates are boring. The spins and shapes are consistently unpredictable, and the character of the record is indisputably Slittish. Ten pieces, each an epic of contagious and gradual movement. ‘Instant Hit’, ‘So Touch’. ‘Spend, Spend, Spend’, ‘Shoplifting’, ‘FM’, ‘New Town’, ‘Ping Pong Affair’, ‘Love And Romance’, ‘Typical Girls’, ‘Adventures Close To Home’. Titles created by The Slits with Palmolive: ‘Adventures Close To Home’ has already appeared on The Raincots’ first EP.

There are no straight lines, easy rhythms and obvious order. From the fractured masterpiece ‘New Town’ – totally different from the old dirge – through the sneer and snarl of ‘Love And Romance’, the nasty condescension of ‘Typical Girls’ and the wicked put-down ‘So Touch’ the sound swells, gathers gropes and turns. It’s no use waiting for it to settle down. Ari Up snaps and talks, compressing spiteful, sore words into extreme approximations of melodies. Harmonies flirt mischievously with distorted prettiness.

Where Bovelle’s technique emphasised The Pop Group’s convolutions to an almost unlistenable extent, with the Slits the two styles complement instead of spiralling off each other. ‘Cut’ isn’t laid back. It’s mangled and savage, petty and contradictory: cultured depravity and nursery rhyme gothic pop. Once upon a time The Slits and the Banshees made music that burst at the seams. Now, everything’s very measured.