The Buzzcocks Buzz Back

Punk legends to release new album in March

Punk-pop pioneers the Buzzcocks will release their next studio record on March 18th on Merge Records. "The Buzzcocks" will be the only text printed on the front cover, but that shouldn't be confused with the album's title. "It isn't self-titled," says guitarist/vocalist Pete Shelley. "People think that because it doesn't have a title, the title must be 'Buzzcocks.' But it's not. It doesn't have a title -- it's not eponymous."

It's not the first time the Manchester foursome has tinkered with static components of record-making. Just before the band broke up in 1981 (they reformed in 1989), it tried to issue three singles, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 with symbols in lieu of A's and B's to buck the A-side/B-side trend. The label compromised offering "P" and "Q" sides.

"You gotta keep people on their toes," Shelley says. "This one is not untitled, because untitled is when you decide you're not going to call it anything. It's generic. Though I do like the sound of 'Untitled Number One.' I'm interested in what people will call it. I think because of the artwork they'll probably call it 'The Black Album,' or 'The Black and White Album.'"

Whatever you call it, the Tony Barber-produced album is the band's first studio recording since 1999's Modern, and it might have been released last year, but after promotional duty for Modern wrapped, guitarist/singer Steve Diggle wiped out on a motor scooter in Greece and broke his wrist.

In addition to the title, fans might initially be befuddled by a pair of songwriting credits ("Stars" and "Lester Sands") which are Shelley co-writes with Howard Devoto, his Buzzcocks co-founder in 1975. Devoto left the band two years after it formed to start Magazine, but twenty-five years later the duo re-teamed for Buzzkunst, an album released last year under the name ShelleyDevoto. The recording was prompted by Shelley's desire to mark the band's anniversary, a plan complicated by Diggle's injured wrist.

Despite the two co-writes, Devoto has not, it turns out, been pulled back into the fold. "Lester Sands" goes back to the band's early years and was included on Time's Up, a 1977 release that was issued after its songs had been regularly bootlegged. A band favorite at sound checks, the song finally received a more thorough treatment than its original four-track release. And "Stars" was written for and included on the Buzzkunst record as the wordier "'Til the Stars in His Eyes Are Dead."

"I sent him a CD of some ideas I'd been working on," Shelley says. "And he said, 'Oh yeah, I've got something for that one.' It's the most Buzzcocks thing that came out of those sessions, and the lyric was the first lyric that Howard ever wrote. He wrote it when he was fourteen."

Among Shelley's other favorites is "Jerk," the album's opener, which the band demoed five years ago, yet never quite managed to record just right. Drummer Phil Barker insisted the group continue working the track, and after speeding up the tempo, it made the cut.

"Morning After" doesn't require much explanation, as the song was hatched amid a hangover's haze. "We had two days in the studio and Phil came in and he brought some cans of lager," Shelley says, laughing. "The inspiration got further and further away as the alcohol consumption increased, so I ended up not doing anything that day. Early the next morning, I had to go to a hairdress appointment to bleach my hair, and I was sitting in the salon waiting for the bleach to take effect with the worst hangover I've had in a long time. And as soon as I was finished I had to go straight to the studio, because it was the final day. So I thought, 'What can I write?' Oooh, my head. And I thought, 'There it is.'"

The Buzzcocks have a six-date tour of Australia (launching January 31st) lined up, and further touring duty of Europe and the U.S. is expected to follow. Shelley is itching to head out and seems a bit flustered by the industry's current pace, which sometimes puts a year between an album's completion and its release. "We're champing at the bit, really," he says. "Albums and tours, everything was really compressed into a small space of time [in the Seventies]. Now things are a bit more spread out, it always seems to take far too long. You think, 'Wow, this is great, isn't it? Everybody should hear it.' And you realize that it's gonna be a year before anybody does get to hear it. But in some ways you anticipate it, it's almost like wanting people to open the Christmas presents you bought them. Wanting to see the smiles on their faces."

The track listing for the next Buzzcocks record:

Keep On
Wake-up Call
Driving You Insane
Morning After
Sick City Sometimes
Certain Move
Lester Sands
Up for the Crack