The early 1980’s was undoubtedly a hard time; mass unemployment, poverty and inner-city riots all made the country feel as if were sitting on a powder keg. Fortunately, such conditions are conducive to making great music, and that’s where General Public stepped in. Harnessing a sense of injustice, this English combo married new wave, post-punk and two-tone, and delivered it with unbridled proletarian rage, the result was as explosive as you’d expect, at once both dangerous and danceable. Their (short) original incarnation delivered two exceptional albums (both of which get the reissue treatment), starting with their aptly-titled debut, All The Rage.
I’m sure the guys in General Public would have baulked at the tern “supergroup” but as they contained members of The Beat (Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger), Dexys Midnight Runners (Mickey Billingham, Andy “Stoker” Growcott), The Specials (Horace Panter) and Mick Jones from the Clash (who played on most of these tracks, but wasn’t credited on the sleeve) no other word will suffice. Of course, musical chemistry is a strange thing and putting a bunch of stellar musicians together is no recipe for success; the mix could implode, or it could sparkle and fizz. In the case of All The Rage it was the second option; each band member brings a little of their past to the project, with each respecting the other, to create a balanced equilibrium.
The common thread which unites all the performers is a strong melodic sensibility, and no matter what acerbic turn the lyrics take, there’s almost always a buoyant bounce, and that’s most notable on the opening couplet of ‘Hot You’re Cool’ and ‘Tenderness’ (the latter being a huge hit in North America). You can hear the desperation and desolation of the times bursting from the grooves, yet there is always Dave Wakeling’s song-smithery to sugar the pill somewhat. This merger of dark lyricism with upbeat sounds is nothing new in music, yet it has rarely been done with the panache that’s on display here, just like the album’s title (that could represent a fashion statement or blind fury) it’s an interesting dichotomy and places All The Rage in the same bracket as More Specials.
The production found on All The Rage is very much of its time, and depending on your personal preference, that’s either a good or bad thing. The thin and reedy, almost synthetic, sound found on All The Rage was de rigour in 1984, and you get the feeling that this album could have been even more powerful had it been given more on the bottom end. The drums pad rather than hit, and the whole thing feels as if it could blow over in a gentle breeze, whereas an album of this emotional depth, played by quality musicians should be able to weather any storm.
This album’s greatest strength is its diversity; it pulls all the strings of its constituent performers into a collective whole, and serves up some of the best music the mid-’80s had to offer. All the rage? Undoubtedly!
- All The Rage is released via BMG Records on 4th August 2023.
- Hot You’re Cool
- Never You Done That
- Burning Bright
- As A Matter Of Fact
- Are You Leading Me On?
- Where’s The Line?
- General Public