Crass - The Feeding Of The Five Thousand
Crass Records
34 songs (1:05:52)
Release year: 2010
Crass Records (Southern Records sub-page)
Reviewed by Goat

This reissue of one of Punk’s most underrated out-of-print albums is long, long overdue. Far more snotty and revolutionary than The Sex Pistols, the likes of Crass and their anarchist beliefs truly brought Punk to life as a political movement, rather than something arguably manufactured to annoy straight-laced media types. Their pro-individual, anti-state message applied to everything from their advocacy of direct action, environmentalism, feminism, animal rights, and anti-globalisation, to their DIY approach. They were against punk itself as much as everything else, controversially dressing in militaristic black uniforms and using a logo which incorporated several authoritarian symbols including a Christian cross, a swastika, the Union flag and an ouroboros, calling themselves Stormtrooper before choosing the name we know them by. Yet there was never any ‘Nazi’ ideology whatsoever – the band would be completely ideologically opposed to the modern crop of right-wing nationalist Pagan or Black Metal bands of Eastern Europe with similar dress sense. No, Crass were left-wing to the core, supporting striking miners in the 80s, advocating anti-racism and pacifism, and choosing the subversive militaristic style as part of their artsy ‘barrage of contradictions’ ideology, playing loud, abrasive, ‘crass’ music with a peace-loving, in some ways oddly optimistic ideology. The aforementioned ouroboros on their logo was to signify their belief that power would eventually destroy itself, a significant message in these modern times where sadly the commercial right wing of politics has stolen individualism as an ideal, and supposedly left-wing parties advocate big states and tight control of their citizens’ personal lives.

Yes, I go into tiresome, eye-rolling detail about these Crass beliefs because, more than nearly any other band, the message is an integral part of the experience, one that is still very relevant today; there’s no escaping it whatsoever. Although early gigs from the band were sloppy and as much about drunkenly entertaining their fellow squatters as anything else, once the uniforms and sober performances came in, the message became integral. Unlike aforementioned NS-related Black Metal you can clearly hear the lyrics, and so purely anarchist is the message that it’s hard to imagine someone actually in favour of the then late-70s status quo listening comfortably. The band didn’t make music for people to listen to comfortably, of course, and would be heartened that a relatively moderate centre-lefty like I can’t agree totally with their message. The opening track here, Asylum, is a female-voiced rant aimed at Jesus Christ and gives a clearly blasphemous and pro-feminist rant, gradually becoming drowned out by guitar feedback, and was nearly responsible for the record not being released, workers at the pressing plant refusing to handle it. Eventually it was replaced with a track ironically titled The Sound Of Free Speech comprising two minutes of silence, and this was the incident that pushed Crass towards setting up their own independent record label to retain artistic control. Of course, this reissue retains the piece as the band wanted.

It’s followed by a track based around the same vocal chant that its title comes from – “do they owe us a living? ‘course they do, course they do!” backed by simplistic yet compelling interweavings of bass, two-chord guitar and d-beating drums, seamlessly sliding into the following End Result. Easily notable is how tracks are less about the music than the accompanying vocal performance, often a ranted stream of words that somehow fits the backing perfectly. You have to have listened to the album a lot to be able to tell songs apart, with a few notable exceptions like the period of silence in They’ve Got A Bomb influenced by John Cage’s 4'33" and designed to stop the live energy of the track and allow the audience to ‘confront themselves’ about the reality of nuclear war. Pretentious? Hell yes! but even over thirty years later it works wonderfully well, and that pessimistic silence is not allowed to grow wearying. It’s a flash-in-the-pan moment that elevates the slightly repetitive punk surrounding it, giving real emotional weight and thanks to vocalist Steve Ignorant’s compelling, heartfelt performance is a highly effective bit of agitprop. The group shouts of ‘punk is dead!’ on the following track of the same name works well given the album’s history – it was first released in 1978, pretty revolutionary stuff given that, say, Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing didn’t come along until 1982.

Plenty of tracks are excellent, but the album’s best listened to as a whole. I will mention another few personal favourites, though, Securicor gradually constructing punk riffage out of feedback in a marvellously almost Hawkwind Space Rock style, and the very critical Sucks attacks people who believe in Buddha as much as people who believe in bombs. I could go on to describe much of the album, if not all, another example being Angels’ brief classical moment and radio clips... the more you listen to The Feeding Of The Five Thousand, the more you realise how imaginative and experimental it is. The original album closed with Well, Do They? referring back to Do They Owe Us A Living’s urgent yet scornful chant, and it’s a fine way to end the album. Here with this reissue that I’m reviewing, we have another sixteen bonus tracks, remixes, live studio recordings and demos, a great historical record for anyone with an interest in the band and a worthy addition to the remastered original tracks. It’s hard to fault the stellar package overall, the original booklet also being reproduced with the classic cut-and-paste artwork, and an additional special sixty-four page booklet with lyrics, artwork, photos and comment from Steve Ignorant and drummer Penny Rimbaud. As a whole, it’s a collector’s item, and well worth the purchase for any fan of the original.

Kind of a personal slant to this review, as some may have already noticed. I’ve fallen out with extreme music lately, and this has helped me remember what I once loved about it, what made it special in the first place before endless barrages of identikit Metal bands started repeating the same tired thing ad infinitum. On the surface, Crass do nothing but live up to their name, and it’ll take a few listens for non-Punks to get to the depths of the music. That would enough in itself, for me. But once you have got used to this album, once you’ve realised the surprising catchiness and recognised the experimental nature, heard the Dada-ist and Neoclassical influences at the heart of the Crass sound, there’s no getting away from how revolutionary this was. Even without the compelling history behind the band, the mass graffiti, the questions in Parliament, the attempted prosecutions under the hated Obscene Publications Acts, the hoaxed conversations between Thatcher and Reagan that caused broadsheet apoplexy... it all comes back to the music. And there’s no doubt that it truly deserves to be kept alive in these modern times where bloody Green Day are about as revolutionary as punk gets, in sound or message. It’s a stark reminder for me, one of many reasons to keep my spark of radicalism alive, but whoever you are of whatever political persuation, whether you see the music as a vehicle for the message or vice-versa, Crass are an absolutely essential act for anyone interested in Punk for its own sake. Ultimately, a quote on the back of the reissue sums it up best: “Germany got Baader-Meinhof, England got Punk...” Crass were firmly and rightfully nonviolent, yet I think even the more bonkers revolutionary Communists out there would admit that we got the better deal of the two.

Killing Songs :
All the original tracks are stellar
Goat quoted 90 / 100
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