Following the fantastic Penis Envy Crass took their time to record their next album. From July 1981 until February 1982 recordings were done for the successor and a date of release was planned for the new album, which also was to contain a live album, a poster and a booklet. In the meantime Thatcher had started a war. Crass had lost touch with the times, for the first and last time.
When Crass released their album Penis Envy in early 1981, the group was already a big name in alternative music and the alternative lifestyle in general. The group worked and lived together at a farm, made their own music in their self-owned studio, had a record label and sold hundreds of thousands of records, singles and related items.
Penis Envy only elevated the group’s popularity in the circuit. Due to the album’s feminist message, the number of women following the group grew considerably. Crass was in touch with the times. It may be reaching somewhat to state that Crass was a source of inspiration, but the fact remains that Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp provided a permanent demonstration platform for (primarily) women from September 1981 and onwards. The women in Crass were very active in the movement.
Penis Envy also decreased the macho image that surrounded the group (which the band heartily hated and was vocal about). However, the English music press was and remained firmly anti-Crass. A great subject for a song perhaps?
The road to Christ – The Album
Mid July 1981 Crass started recording the follow-up to Penis Envy. The group had gained some experience with new recording techniques and musical expression. The new album was to be more musical diverse and varied than everything Crass had ever done before. Penny Rimbaud had some specific ideas about how the music should sound and was keen on experimenting with sounds, tapes and ‘free-jazz’.
Singer Steve Ignorant frequently warned: “Keep it simple”, the motto the group was founded on. Keep it uncluttered, make both the music and the message as clear and ‘to the point’ as humanly possible. Time and time again, the group tended to forget that during the recordings.
The group took more than 6 (!) months’ time for the album, a long time for Crass, whose modus operandi was to record and release quickly. But Christ – The Album was to be the definitive manifesto. In the summer of 1982 Christ – The Album was finally released. The exact release date is not clear, but as the album took the first place on the English indie charts on August 28th, 1982, Christ – The Album must have been released in the 2 weeks prior.
Crass by name, even worse by nature, like it or not, they just won’t go away. Crass are the distempered dog end of rock ‘n’ roll’s once bright vibrant rebellion. That they’re so unattractive, unoriginal and badly unbalanced in an uncompromising and humourless sort of way, simply adds to the diseased attraction of their naively black and white world where words are a series of shock slogans and mindless token tantrums to tout around your tribe and toss at passers by.
Good old Crass, our make believe secret society, our let’s pretend passport to perversity. They’re nothing but a caricature and a joke.
Steve Sutherland, Melody Maker
Christ – The Album
The album that lent its name to the boxset contains 15 songs, and once again shows the group did have a sense of humor. The intro alone. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Christ!, followed by a cheering crowd and reading a piece of an article by Melody Maker‘s Steve Sutherland, which can be read above.
The reactions to Crass by the (English) press generally was scathing, with attacks like mentioned above as the common denominator. The venom in the reactions most definitely says something about the writers and the press, but also about Crass. Any which way you looked at it, Crass was successful and showed it was possible to offer an alternative to society and prevailing morals. There were many who took offense at that.
The fact that Crass used the Melody Maker piece (uncensored) as the album’s opener, clearly shows their sense of humor and that they weren’t afraid of their critics. Of course, it was used to enhance their own message.
Same old stuff, you’ve heard it all before / Crass being crass about the system or is it war? / We ain’t got no humour, we don’t know how to laugh / Well if you don’t fucking like it – fucking tough!
Something that stands out on Christ – The Album is that almost every song is preceded by a short segue consisting of radio- and television recordings, that pre-interpret and/or introduce the next songs. Crass had never used this before on an album. It kills the flow of the album somewhat, but it also provides a, at times truly shocking, glimpse of the way people thought and reasoned at the time on a variety of issues and the way politicians sold their messages.
Musically, Crass sounds more varied and bold than ever before. Some songs have an almost orchestral feel about them, helped by the addition of Paul Ellis’s keyboard playing.
Two songs have been recorded earlier and/or released (in other versions) on other singles/albums. Rival Tribal Rebel Revel was released as early as 1980 as a flexi-single with the Toxic Grafity fanzine. Major General Despair was first recorded on February 17th, 1978. Both songs later appeared on the compilation Best Before 1984.
Well Forked – But Not Dead
The majority of the second album is made up of live recordings of a show at the London 100 Club on June 9th, 1981. Those recordings are intertwined with studio recordings, demos and tape fragments. Two of those recordings stemmed from the very first time Crass were ever in a studio.
The live album was unique as well, especially for the punk scene. The average punk band would never release an album in that way. The Exploited’s 1981 On Stage album is an exciting rendition of a concert, and far removed from the experimental sounds Crass came up with on Well Forked – But Not Dead.
And of course there was a poster. Artist Gee Vaucher painted an impressive canvas, that was added in a 30 x 58 cm format to the album. Once again the attack was frontal. A shitting Thatcher, accompanied by Reagan and Brezjnev, who grope each other. In the background big business walk by in a Nazi-like march in a dystopian landscape. The Christ – The Album themes condensed into one impressive image.
And then there’s the booklet, A Series Of Shock Slogans And Mindless Token Tantrums, whose title references the introduction lyrics to Christ – The Album. Later in 1982 the booklet was published as a separate book by Crass’s own publishing company Exitstencil Press. The booklet was made up of 3 bigger pieces:
- The Last Of The Hippies, a history of the peace movement, the rise of the Oi punk movement, that was deemed to be racist, and more. Throughout the story, the tale of Wally Hope, a revolutionary who dies by abuse in a psychiatric hospital, is told. With Hope’s demise (“the last of the hippies”) the birth of punk seems to be the only natural response.
- The second story depicts the way in which means of oppression can be used by the oppressed.
- The history of pacifism against war. It doesn’t just provide perspective, but also offers a practical solution for how to live a life, where pacifism is more than just a slogan.
The first article can be read in the sub article Crass – A Series Of Shock Slogans And Mindless Token Tantrums.
The booklet in particular impressed some of the English press. It convincingly showed that Crass was more than a bunch of slogan shouting individuals. The intelligence and eloquence that spoke from the pages is quite impressive and leaves the reader with an image of people who live and work with a passionate zeal, with the ultimate goal being to award others with the freedom that has brought them so much.
Songs Christ – The Album
All songs written by Crass.
- Have A Nice Day
- Mother Love
- Nineteen Eighty Bore
- I Know There Is Love
- Beg Your Pardon
- Birth Control ‘N’ Rock ‘N’ Roll
- Reality Whitewash
- It’s The Greatest Working Class Rip Off
- You Can Be Who?
- Buy Now Pay As You Go
- Rival Tribal Revel Rebel (Pt. 2)
- Sentiment (White Feathers)
- Major General Despair
Songs Well Forked – But Not Dead
All songs written by Crass.
- Banned From The Roxy
- The Sound Of One Hand
- Punk Is Dead
- Nagasaki Nightmare
- Bata Motel Blues
- Berkertex Bribe
- Fold It In Half
- Big Hands
- Big A Little A
- First Woman
- Arlington 73
- Bomb Plus Tape
- Contaminational Power
- I Ain’t Thick, It’s Just A Trick
- G’s Song
- I Can’t Stand It
- Shaved Women
- A Part Of Life
- Do They Owe Us A Living?
- So What?
- Salt ‘N’ Pepper
- Steve Ignorant – vocals
- Peeve Libido (Eve Libertine) – vocals on I Know There Is Love, Beg Your Pardon, Reality Whitewash, Rival Tribal Revel Rebel (Pt. 2)
- Joy De Vivre – vocals on Birth Control ‘N’ Rock ‘N’ Roll, Bumhooler, Sentiment (White Feathers)
- Phil Free – guitar, synthesizer on Sentiment (White Feathers)
- Sri Hari Nana (N.A.Palmer) – rhythm guitar, vocals on The Greatest Working Class Rip Off
- Sybil Right (Pete Wright) – bass
- Elvis Rimbaud (Penny Rimbaud) – drums, sound effects
- G Sus – tape collages
- Paul Ellis – strings, keyboards
- Steve Herman – guitar (on two demos on Well Forked – But Not Dead)
Just like the other Crass albums, Christ – The Album is filled with a great number of subjects, like narcissism and apathy within punk, (television) news, family hypocrisy, terrorism, war, sex, advertising and the extremely dominant consumerism.
Television is a target in many songs. Nowadays, television is an almost obsolete medium, but as I think back I wonder whether or not we were better off with ‘good old’ television. The sewers of current-day social media seem far more worse (and dangerous).
Big brother ain’t watching you mate, you’re fucking watching him
© Nineteen Eighty Bore, Crass
Beg Your Pardon is about living and designing your life the way you want to. The intro provides a striking insight into the establishment’s hypocrisy:
…we must protect the law abiding citizen wherever they are… police and soldiers are required if necessary to shoot to kill to maintain order
Intro Beg Your Pardon
Gonna make MY decisions, live my own life / They can keep their darkness and gloom / Hypocrisy, trickery, I’ve had enough / They can keep their destruction and doom / I’ve only one life and I’ll live it my way / They can keep their restrictions and law / And if they think different I’ll have one thing to say… “Fuck off ‘cos I’ve heard it before”
© Beg Your Pardon, Crass
In Reality Whitewash Crass emotes compassion for the very first time. It instantly works out great and results in one of the most beautiful songs Crass ever made. An impressive and sad portrait of civilian life.
She cleans the bathroom mirror / So she can line her eyes / An expert in delusion, an artist in disguise / She’s not content with what she is, but she does the best she can / But she doesn’t do it for herself, she does it for her man / And meanwhile he’s out hunting, this master of the hunt / Cruising down the high street in his endless search for cunt / And the posters on the hoardings encourage his pursuit / Glossy ads where men are men, and women simply cute
© Reality Whitewash, Crass
Punk and the bad influence of the Oi movement propel The Greatest Working Class Rip Off. At the time Oi was a major issue, especially in England, where Oi punks were responsible for a lot of aggression and racial problems. The commentary was more than justified.
Punk attacked the barriers of colour, class and creed / But look at how it is right now, do you really think you’re freed? / Punk once stood for freedom, not violence, greed and hate / Punk’s got nothing to do with what you’re trying to create / Anarchy, violence, chaos? / You mindless fucking jerks / Can’t you see you’re talking about the way the system works? / Throughout our bloody history force has been the game / The message that you offer is just the fucking same
© The Greatest Working Class Rip Off, Crass
Tired bored sad people, tired bored sad lives / Endless cars on endless roadways past endless shopfronts with endless lies
© Deadhead, Crass
And once again racism amongst the youth, skinheads and Oi punks in particular. Quotes like the ones below are very shocking, but unfortunately still commonplace.
Well I don’t, I don’t really like them at all, no coloureds, I don’t like them at all really – and we’re not racialist either
Intro Rival Tribal Revel Rebel (Pt. 2)
And the conclusion is blatantly obvious:
Hey there big man, take a look at yourself, it’s in the mirror where the real war starts
© Rival Tribal Revel Rebel (Pt. 2), Crass
Talk about shocking intros. When the consumption of meat in the West is placed against Africa’s poverty, the reactions are vile and wildly ignorant.
We feed pigs better than many third world countries feed people / Well a lot of them should get enough food shouldn’t they? What do they spend their money on? / If they starve, they starve. It’s up to them. That’s where they put themselves ain’t it?
And once again poverty, but now set against the cost of war and weapons.
We’re looking for a better world but what do we see? Just hatred, poverty, aggression, misery / So much money spent on war when three quarters of the world is so helplessly poor
© Major General Despair, Crass
Yet, after all that misery, Crass still ends on a positive note. It’s not too late!
Now, looking at you I know one thing, we can win, we can win, I want you to, I want you to sense your own strength
Outro Major General Despair (a piece from EP Thomson’s speech during a manifestation of the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament)
Even though Christ – The Album isn’t my favorite Crass album, which still isStations Of The Crass, it is the album that arguably tells the most complete tale about what Crass is and wants. The attacks comes from every angle: sound, text and image.
And, uniquely, Crass showed feeling for the ‘victims’ of society. Despite the anger, there was room for compassion. It makes for a few moments that truly move, and this time not just because of the anger. That’s not to say that the anger and rage have gone, and luckily so, for there’s beauty in anger as well.
What stands out after all these years is the almost prophetic nature of Christ – The Album. The entire album is drenched in the threat of war. In the ‘real world’ an actual war was raging by the time Crass finished recording. More on that in the next paragraph.
The only song I thought to be stupid in terms of its message was Mother Love. I had loving parents who tried their best to raise me and my sisters to be independently operating and thinking people, who took responsibility for their own actions. The lyric “Mummy and daddy owned me till I could understand / That at the end of my arm was my own fucking hand / That in my head I had a brain that they filled up with lies / That I didn’t fucking need them with their love and family ties” was not my cup of tea, and seemed to stream the consciousness of a spoilt pre-adolescent.
Even though Christ – The Album at times comes across as a goodbye, Crass would impress deeply within a year with their most confrontational album in their history: Yes Sir, I Will
Ambition versus reality
When Crass finished recording the album, Thatcher had started a war against the Falklands, a group of small islands near Argentina. By the time the album was planned for release, the war was already over. Crass felt surpassed by time.
Crass was too late to address the war on Christ – The Album, but was able to add to the booklet. Early June 1982, the following text was added.
A MESSAGE TO THATCHER, HER GOVERNMENT, THOSE WHO SUPPORT HER AND ALL THOSE WHO ARE WILLING TO SEND LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE OF WAR.
We never asked for war, nor in the innocence of our birth were we aware of it. We never asked for war, nor in the struggle to realisation did we feel that there was a need for it. We never asked for war, nor in the joyful colours of our childhood were we conscious of its darkness.
‘The sky is empty and it’s turning different shades of colour,
It never did before and we never asked for war.
My mind is empty and my body different shades of torture,
It never was before and we never asked for war.
The buildings are empty and the countryside is a wasteland,
It never was before and we never asked for war.
The playgrounds are empty and the children limbless corpses,
They never were before and they never asked for war.
No-one is moving and no doves fly here.
No-one is thinking and no doves fly here.
No-one remembers beyond all this fear.
No doves fly here.
The Mob 1982.
We never asked for war; this glib, horrific indifference, that leads young men barely old enough to have experienced anything of the joy of life to kill and be killed, is something you have imposed on us. You snatch these young bodies from the brain-washing cradle of the schoolroom to be maimed, mutilated and slaughtered in the cold grave of your cynicism. You tear these young bodies from their homes to die in the foreign soil of your barren, blood-stained minds. How perverted you are, how distorted and twisted, how divorced from the simple joy of existence. You dare threaten the one life that we have with your pained violence. In the crystal light of our lives you are the darkest shadow.
Each body that you shovel into the mass graves of history is another darling boy that you have bled, another precious life that you have defiled, another act of creation that you have dared to violate. What is birth to you but another rag that you may wring and slap and beat and discard? What is life to you but another plastic body-bag into which you defecate? What is death to you but the disfigured bodies of our children upon whose angel faces you smear your rancid droppings?
How grand you must feel as you chart out your battlefields; each feature on that map describes the desolation of your mind. How powerful you must feel as you order the plunder and rape of those battlefields; each bayonet that turns in some contracting stomach is the pointing finger of your right hand. How omnipotent you must feel as those young men stumble in the death of those battlefields; each death is part of you that dies.
How glorious war. How rich the experience of war.
Those castaway boys, deranged, dismembered, crying, homeless, are the reality of your horror, the actuality of your insanity. That horror is the heritage that you create. That insanity is the tradition that you leave to those as yet unborn. The frightened corpses of the living are shadowed by your arrogance. The limbless corpses of the dead are devoured in your lust for power. The maggots that inch away at the rotting flesh are your true compatriots, you keep them fed, they are your true companions. Those bodies were my brothers that you have destroyed. That battlefield is my home that you have burnt in your fire.
Your minds are filth. Your lives are corruption. You are the walking dead, the parasited who bleed this earth of ours, that dry the waters from the river-beds and give us blood in its place.
YOU STAND ACCUSED OF PREMEDITATED, CALCULATED AND COLD-BLOODED MURDER. YOUR CRIMES ARE WELL DOCUMENTED. YOUR GUILT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY THAT ONE DAY YOU WILL HAVE TO REALISE.
Crass, 3rd June 1982.
As stated, Crass felt it was a disaster. Crass always wanted to be relevant and comment on the current times and affairs. The Falklands war and not being able to address it, felt like an utter failure to Crass. In 2009 Rimbaud said: “Christ had been intended as a celebration of our collective strength, a tangible demonstration of possibilities. However, against the backdrop of Thatcher’s vicious, pointless war, it all seemed depressingly empty. We were too late, too late by far.”.
The consequence was that Crass would return back to basics. The next releases would be “tactical responses” to actual (political) situations. The first result was Sheep Farming In The Falklands, a flexi disc, that was available for free, often as a supplement with regular Crass albums. How Does It Feel was the next release (more on that in the article Crass – How Does It Feel).
On May 3rd, 2011, Christ – The Album (just like the other albums before) was re-released as the fourth part of the six-piece The Crassical Collection. Remastered, with supplementary artwork by Gee Vaucher and an elaborate booklet, containing liner-notes by Ignorant and Rimbaud.
Unfortunately, the re-releases started a row between the band members. The releases stirred up some controversy within the punk community as well, which didn’t present its prettiest face (not by a long shot). Complaints about the price (still considerably less when compared to current standards) and a feeling of entitlement to free music, because ‘that’s what Crass was all about’. Do They Owe Us A Living? indeed…
But, all in all, the re-releases were great, even though I didn’t particularly like it sound wise, but the packaging was awesome and the liner-notes were informative and a very nice read!
Crass would never again spend so much time on an album and return to their original motto. Confrontational, direct music as a reaction to current affairs. The first new album to appear was 1983’s Yes Sir, I Will, which was recorded in just 45 minutes.
Nevertheless, Christ – The Album is a punk classic, which shows Crass from its most musical side and at times manages to really move.
What’s your opinion? Let me know in the comment section below.
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Crass became ambitious in 1982: Christ – The Album. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.