This is the fourth article about Crass. Following the introduction of Crass, their debut The Feeding Of The 5000 and successor Stations Of the Crass, it’s now time to give attention to album number three, Penis Envy: feminism, Freud, the free Our Wedding flexi-disc and censorship.
The other article is dedicated to the 1982 single How Does It Feel.
By 1981 Crass had turned into a huge name within the alternative world and music. The group lived together in a farm, made their own music in their own studio, had their own record label and sold hundreds of thousands copies of their albums, singles and various other outings.
Despite the success, idealism still reigned supreme. Even though the various releases were sold at an absolute bare minimum, the group still made a profit. That was all redirected to other outings, like the Bullshit Detectors (see the article In 1979 Crass release their ultimate statement: Stations Of The Crass).
The group’s image was definitely hardcore and in some ways even macho, despite the heavy anti-macho stance in songs like Big Man, Big M.A.N..
On February 14th, 1981, Valentine’s day, Crass released their third album: Penis Envy. The recordings for the album took place in December 1980. The first three songs more or less fit the Crass mold, as introduced on the first two albums, furious hardcore punk with confrontational lyrics. But, contrary to the previous albums, the lyrics are clearly audible and intelligible. As it turned out, Eve Libertine’s voice was perfect for the message and still manages to race through the songs and lyrics. Exciting Crass anarcho punk.
Starting with What the Fuck?, the album’s sound changes, tape collages, musique concrète, (mermaid) wailing. The first song of the second side is furious, hard, confrontational again, yet contains some post-punk influences and sounds more musical than ever before. Berkertex Bribe starts off almost African and is beautifully produced. Crass is capable of impressive musicianship. However, the lyrics leave nothing to the imagination. After two minutes the song explodes into the typical Crass cacophony. It works like a charm.
Smother Love is a combination of the new-found musicality and the Crass template. Health Surface, sung by Joy de Vivre, sounds lovely, funky, before changing into an ambient-like sound and spoken words, and changing back again to the lovely beginning to end off in a Crass climax with whistling sounds (?). Dry Weather slightly resembles the fantastic Big A, Little A, released a year earlier.
And then the bonus, Our Wedding, a very sweet lullaby kind of song, that ends with alienating sounds of ringing church bells. More on Our Wedding in the Loving paragraph below.
Album title and cover
The title of the Crass album refers to the Sigmund Freud theory, which he first published in 1908 in the article “On the Sexual Theories of Children”. The theory alludes to a number of consequences when girls realize they have no penis. According to Freud the end result, following a ‘normal’ development, is that that penis envy transforms into the desire for a man and/or a child. Due to the fact that the stages a girl/woman goes through more or less encompasses an (accepted) inferiority complex, this theory was soon highly debated. Thus, the theory is controversial.
[Penis Envy] is the misuse of one of Freud’s more absurd theories. When we first started, we were seen as a male boot band and this record certainly puts that straight – that our sensitivities are much wider than just that element.
Penny Rimbaud, 1983
Besides the title that was deemed obscene, the album cover is confrontational as well. The picture of a plastic doll stares from the cover. A face, an open mouth, visible through a heart shaped hole (the international symbol for love, isn’t it?). The shocking part is the text above the doll: “Teenage doll, an amazingly life-like companion”…
The back cover contains a photo of a butcher cutting into a pig’s carcass.
The album was banned by HMV, a major retail chain in England. The cover and the title were deemed too obscene. An owner of a record shop that did sell the album was sued for “displaying obscene articles for publication for gain”. The police seized copies of Penis Envy, as well as other materials by Crass, Dead Kennedys and Flux Of Pink Indians. The bands and corresponding labels were sued, charged, and acquitted after appeal (with the exception of the lyrics to Bata Motel).
The Loving affair probably didn’t help matters.
What we ended up with was so convincingly schmaltzy that we had the idea of trying to sell it to a teenage romance magazine called Loving. It was one of those magazines which feeds lies to young girls, sets them up with ludicrously impossible fantasies which they can’t follow, won’t follow and don’t follow. Magazines like that just create heartache, they remove young people from themselves, set them up to be knocked down.
Anyway, we called in at Loving’s IPC offices as Creative Recordings and Sound Services (CRASS) and said “We’ve just made this recording and think it would be suitable for your publication.” They jumped at it, saying “It’s great, fantastic. We’re about to do a special brides [bribes] issue. How about us doing it as a free flexi?” Which is precisely what it became. They advertised it as “Our Wedding”—an “absolute must for your wedding day”. They’d bought it hook, line and stinker, but the lyrics were frightful, banal shit about the social fantasy of marriage, you know, things like never looking at other girls or guys once you’ve fallen for it.
Penny Rimbaud, 2010
As stated earlier on in this article, the album ends with Our Wedding, a song that perfectly captures the idiocy (particularly) instilled on young girls about marriage. Using the moniker Creative Recording And Sound Services (CRASS) the band offered the song to the Loving magazine, a periodical aimed at teenagers. The magazine would give away 130,000 Our Wedding flexi-discs for free to its readers. The magazine marketed the single that would provide “your wedding day just that bit extra special” and as “a must for all true romantics”.
The lyrics truly are cringeworthily sweet:
all i am i give to you / you’ll honor me i’ll honor you / Rich or poor or come what may / we’ll forsake all other love / just we two, one flesh one blood / in the eyes of god / i am yours to love and honor / i’m giving you my love / never look at anyone, anyone but me / never look at anyone, i must be all you see / listen to those wedding bells / say goodbye to other girls / i’ll never be untrue my love / don’t be untrue to me
Creative Recording and Sound Services, 1981
Who says Crass didn’t have a sense of humor?
After the scam was revealed a large part of the (English) press tumbled over Crass. Overdone or not, it did signal something significant. Crass was no longer that little club of people shouting from the sidelines. It was becoming more and more obvious that the band sold huge amounts of their albums in England and abroad. Crass was news worthy. The English music magazine New Musical Express chipped in as well. Click on the line below to read the article on the Loving affair which was published on June 13th, 1981, entitled Crass leaves Loving at the altar.
How a teen mag’s bullshit detector let them down.
Crass leaves Loving at the altar
By Graham Lock
“Oh Rob, “I whispered when he released me slightly. It was different with Rob – and we both knew it…
“Lesley…” he murmured, stroking my hair. Then he was kissing me again and I wanted it to go on forever. This wasn’t a game – IT COULDN’T BE!
Phew! Readers who could tear themselves away from the passionate embraces of thfs “compelling real-life” romance and peruse the rest of Loving magazine’s ‘Bridal Special’ issue (May 30) would have found a treasure-chest of romantic delights.
Flicking past “Dreamy Wedding Dresses and Magical Make-Up”, past “How Revealing Is Your Underwear? – What Does Your Choice Tell About Your Character”, past even a picture-profile of “TV Turn-On Danny Baker”, your eyes might have alighted at last on Loving’s “fabulous record offer” – a free seven-inch flexi-disc called ‘Our Wedding,’ sung “for you” by one Joy De Vivre.
“Make your wedding day that bit extra special,” enthused the blurb, “Joy De Vivre has captured all the happiness and romance of that all-important big day – your wedding… it’s a must for all true romantics!”
The eager reader aremble to fill in the coupon and claim their disc may not have noticed that this wonderful offer came courtesy of Creative Recording and Sound Services, whose initials spell out…
Aaarggh! C.R.A.S.S.! CRASS! The dreaded anarchist punk rock band who sing dirty words and want to destroy civilisation as we know it. Oh no! Surely this couldn’t be a…
Alas, dear readers, it was. Tsk, tsk, tsk. The sad, sordid, squalid truth, as revealed by News Of The World reporter Jad Adams this Sunday (“A BAND OF HATE’S LOVING MESSAGE”, located between two rape stories and a cartoon of Titus the Newt), was that Crass had hoaxed Loving with a perfectly-executed parody of gross romantic tack.
Amid a swirl of strings, church organ and wedding bells, the disc – in a tasteful cream plastic with discreet bride and groom motif by artist B.A.Nana – features chanteuse Joy De Vivre voicing such tender sentiments as “Listen to those wedding bells/Say goodbye to other girls” and “Never look at anyone/I must be all you see-ee-ee”.
“This is a sick joke.” Loving editor Pam Lyons told Adams.
But worse was to come–the track is also to appear on the new Crass LP entitled — horror! horror! “too obscene to print” (News Of The World)–‘Penis Envy’.
“We’ve turned Loving into a responsible and authoritative magazine,” added Lyons, “and then this happens.”
Crass spokesperson Penny Rimbaud begs to differ. Contacted by NME, he dismissed teenage romance mags of Loving’s ilk as “absolutely obscene and despicable rags. They exploit people in an aggressive and unpleasant manner”.
The controversial punk star went on to describe how the band had first recorded ‘Our Wedding’ as a joke to round off their new LP–“a sneering attack on love and marriage” (News Of The World)–and decided, for a prank, to send a tape of the song to various teenage romance mags in the name of singer Joy De Vivre.
Their aim, says Rimbaud, was “to expose all this absolute shit they’re shovelling out. I mean, they actually put out ‘Our Wedding’, which is totally over the top. I don’t see how anyone could have taken it seriously. We were amazed when they agreed to put it out.”
Rimbaud was at pains to insist that Crass were not out to “hurt the readers” but to “expose the people who promote and produce the paper as emotional charlatans–the way they trivialise love and relationships is scandalous, it’s teenage pornography.”
For Loving, a tight-lipped Pam Lyons later told NME: “it was just a pathetic ploy by Crass to get publicity.”
Several hundred orders for the record have already arrived at Crass HQ and they expect the final demand to run into thousands. Loving do not intend to hinder this operation or to take any other action against Crass since, it seems, the fiendish anarcho-punkers took care not to break any law.
Let us, in conclusion, spare a thought for the hapless Loving. Our Agony Aunt, Netta Spouse, advises them: “I’m sure you will get over this disappointment and begin a new relationship in the near future. After all, learning to trust people is a giant step forward on the long uphill climb to happiness and true love. And if the odd anarchist punk rocker breaks your heart, don’t despair because, sooner or later, the right man really will come along.”
New Musical Express, 06/13/1981
All songs written by Crass.
- Bata Motel
- Systematic Death
- Poison In A Pretty Pill
- What The Fuck?
- Where Next Columbus?
- Berkertex Bribe
- Smother Love
- Health Surface
- Dry Weather
- Our Wedding *
- Eve Libertine – vocals
- Joy de Vivre – vocals on Health Surface
- Phil Free – guitar
- B.A.Nana (N.A.Palmer) – guitar
- Pete Wright – bass
- Penny Rimbaud – drums
- G – harmonium on What the Fuck? and artwork
- Steve Ignorant – “not on this recording”
Was the primary subject of the album still necessary? Wasn’t Margaret Thatcher the first female prime minister in England? Didn’t she hold all the power? No: “Thatcher is a man in woman’s clothing” was the motto. Not illogical, at all.
Even though the album is called one the very first feminist punk albums, the messages aren’t entirely focused on feminism, but also on the (corruption of) power, unhappiness, subjection and nuclear war.
The opener Bata Motel starts the album off in a confrontational manner. The woman as an utensil, who goes out of her way to please the man, even if it is (very) hurtful to herself. The female version of Stations Of the Crass‘s Big Man, Big M.A.N.?
well today i look so good / just like i know i should / my breasts to tempt inside my bra / my face is painted like a movie star / i’ve studied my flaws in your reflection / and put them to rights with savage correction / i’ve turned my statuesque perfection / and shone it over in your direction / so come on darling,make me yours / trip me over,show me the floor / tease me,tease me,make me stay / in my red high-heels i can’t get away
© BATA MOTEL, CRASS
The following Systemic Death tells the same tale perhaps even more bluntly.
they’ll fuck her mind so they can fuck her silly
© SYSTEMIC DEATH, CRASS
In What The Fuck? the subject focus shifts to the environment, nature and most of all its destruction. Is the destroyer even capable of seeing his actions for what they truly are?
your war and raving of it is so total / you’re consumed by it as you’d consume us / would you see the fire from your sanctuary of death? / what terrible pain you need to hide / in your hatred you’d seek to destroy the earth / what is it that you have been denied? / what the fuck are you thinking? / what the fuck? / what the fuck are you seeing? / what the fuck?
© WHAT THE FUCK?, CRASS
In Where Next Columbus? Marx, Mussolini, Jung, Sartre, Einstein and Jesus are put through the wringer. In my younger days I had the song’s main question “who’s your leader?” painted on the back of my coat. A solid question, still is. Who do you follow, whose theory appeals to you (fits your pre-existing belief systems)? Or do you chose the difficult path, thinking for yourself?
who do you see? / who do you watch? / who’s your leader? / which is your flock?
© SYSTEMIC DEATH, CRASS
Berkertex Bribe stands out musically, but lyrically it’s great as well. Truth be told, I have married, and yes, with a ring…
the public are shocked by the state of society / but as for you,you’re a breath of purity / well,don’t give me your morals / they’re filth in my eyes / you can pack them away with the rest of your lies / your painted mask of ugly perfection / the ring on your finger / the sign of protection / is the rape on page 3 / is the soldier’s obsession / how well you’ve been caught to support your oppression / one god / one church / one husband / one wife
© BERKERTEX BRIBE, CRASS
Dry Weather arguably contains the perfect phrase to summarize (and close) the album.
you don’t want person,you just want woman
© DRY WEATHER, CRASS
Next to being a feminist pamphlet, Penis Envy is also a call to save the world and a call to be true to oneself. Of course it’s also a furious anarcho punk album. Musically diverse and original and all immaculately produced as well. It was Crass’ most melodic and musical album to date.
And, how was the album received? In the (English) press the album was cast aside as just another example of racket and incoherent lyrics by the retards that called themselves Crass. To be fair, a chunk of the predominantly male audience was ambivalent it all at first too, some snide remarks were definitely made.
Unrightfully so, I might add, Penis Envy is a shining example of how good anarcho punk, and how important an album and music can be. Penis Envy was and still is a fantastic album, musically as well as lyrically. Alas, as is the case with many social and/or political albums, the words are still eerily current.
I rate Penis Envy the same as I rated Stations Of the Crass:
On March 8th, 2011, Penis Envy was re-released as part of The Crassical Collection. Remastered, with extra artwork by Gee Vaucher and a booklet containing liner-notes by Eve Libertine and Penny Rimbaud. Of all the remasters, Penis Envy was the one I didn’t like that much. The original crystal clear production was replaced by a somewhat muddy sound. It also seemed as if the tapes weren’t fully synchronized. A strange sensation.
After Penis Envy the band went into the studio for the successor, which was released in 1982, Christ – The Album. More on that in a new article. For now, listen and enjoy Penis Envy!
What do you think of Penis Envy? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Crass, Freud and feminism: Penis Envy. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Crass 1981 image: therockpit.net
Crass – Penis Envy & Crass – Penis Envy – Label images: discogs.com
Crass – Penis Envy – Poster, Crass – Wedding Day flexi-disc & Crass – Loving magazine images: theartofcrass.co.uk
New Musical Express (NME) – Logo image: weebly.com
Crass – Live (vocals Eve Libertine & Joy de Vivre) image: twitter.com
Women in Crass image: dangerousminds.net
Crass – Penis Envy – The Crassical Collection image: amazon.com