Graded on a Curve:
Anti-Nowhere League, “Streets of London” EP

I never liked me no filthy UK punk. When The Sex Pistols exploded I was too transfixed by David Byrne’s stupid giant suit to pay much attention to what was going on in England. I heard and liked the Sex Pistols just fine, but my small-town isolation resulted in my missing such bands as Sham 69, The Exploited, or Chron Gen. All I heard was Siouxsie and the Banshees and Adam and the Ants, and they put me off what was happening in England for years. It was my decided opinion that any country that could produce a band that dressed like pirates had nothing to offer, and that was that was that. In short, I was a dipshit.

I’ve been making amends for my disinterest in English punk for decades now, playing catch up as it were in a desperate attempt to make up for my slavish attraction to art rock. And recently I stumbled upon a band I really love: Anti-Nowhere League. I love them because they were obscene and filthy and their lead singer was named Animal and wore a codpiece and you could tell just by looking at him that he hadn’t had a good washing since the days when his baths included a little rubber ducky.

Dirty filthy rock’n’roll—you can’t beat it. Mitch Miller said of rock, “It’s not music, it’s a disease,” and while a band like Talking Heads (or such U.S. punkers as Television, Patti Smith, or even the Ramones) weren’t anybody’s idea of contagious, Miller may have actually been spot on about Anti-Nowhere League. They WERE less a band than a mutant form of music-producing pestilence, and what’s not to love about that?

Anti-Nowhere League’s brilliance struck me like a hollow point bullet between the eyes the very first time I listened to the opening cut of their 1982 debut LP, We Are… The League. Because it codified one of my primary beliefs about rock, namely that it should sound wrong and alienate people, and its makers should take pride in these accomplishments. And here was Animal, a depraved goon and obviously unrepentant about it, singing the likes of, “We are the League and we are mad/We are the League and the music’s bad/Fucked-up noise like you’ve never known/We’ll make you wish you’d stayed at home.” I swooned, for real. “It’s time for a different noise,” sings Animal on “Can’ Stand Rock N Roll,” and I think he’s talking about the shite (ELP, ELO, etc.) that dominated the airwaves at the time.

But what really struck me, egomaniac that I am, is that they were practically parroting my old band Lesbian Boy’s sentiments, to wit: “Bad sounds all day long/Like a dog licking its balls real loud/I knew a girl she smelled wrong/That’s the kind of shit we play.” And it wasn’t just the lyrics that hooked me. Whether they could play their instruments or not—there was evidently some debate on this issue—Anti-Nowhere League could at least come up with a compelling hook that wouldn’t cause your dog to vomit his dinner and decline to eat it again.

Anti-Nowhere League came together in 1980 in Royal Tunbridge Wells, England, and consisted of Animal (Nick Culmer) on vocals, Magoo (Chris Exall) on guitar, Winston the Grass (Clive Blake) on bass, and Bones (Tony Shaw) on drums. They were a lovely bunch of anti-social degenerates, just like good punk rockers should be. They put out a song called “Animal” in which Animal brags about being a sexual pervert and your next door neighbor, and another song (“Let’s Break the Law”) in which he sings, “We ain’t that good and we ain’t that clean.” You can’t be much clearer than that. In short, they were nihilists and troglodytes, not like the guys in The Troggs but for real.

I chose to review their 1982 “Streets of London” EP instead of their debut LP for one simple reason; it has “So What” on it. The song would become the band’s signature tune and is a seminal and visceral slab of “fuck you.” As for “Streets of London,” I’ve seen it listed as a single and as an EP, so take your pick. I don’t know and I don’t care what you call it. All I am sure of is it has four songs on it, and they’re all totally mental.

“Streets of London” opens with the title cut, a scabrous cover of folkie Ralph McTell’s 1969 song “Streets of London,” a dark look at London’s downtrodden and defeated. While Magoo bangs out a barbaric riff, Animal sings, “Let me take you by the hand/And take you through the streets of London/And I’ll show you something that’ll really make you sick.” It’s a revved up variation on the Pogues “The Old Main Drag”—both are bleak songs written for the down and out. Shane MacGowan’s take is more graphic, but “Streets of London” is more ferocious and gloating, as it shoves the faces of the oblivious into the grim reality of life on London’s mean streets. It’s as if Animal is saying, “You think you know London, well I’ll show you the real London.” And he sounds positively gleeful as he leads his companion through Hell; the casualties of the streets of London are a vindication of his jaundiced view of Life, and it’s ugly.

“I Hate …People” is another fuck you to the world, with Animal speed singing the vicious verses that lead up to a great chorus, which has the band alternating the line, “I hate people” with Animal’s cries of “I hate the human race,” “I hate your ugly face,” and, gloatingly, “They hate me!” The song’s a rant against the empty workaday world and the people who populate it, and who hate him for declining the join their lugubrious party. Meanwhile Bones pummels the drums, and Magoo bangs out power chords that won’t win any originality awards but that get the job done. There’s a nice if primal instrumental interlude that sounds almost baroque given the band’s primitivism, and Animal concedes he’s a fucking mess, and he sounds boastful on the score.

“Let’s Break the Law” opens quietly, then explodes as Animal sings about feeling high and mean while the band joins in on the chorus, singing, “Let’s break the law here tonight.” Animal throws in the surprisingly open-minded, “We don’t really care if you’re black or white” while Magoo tosses of cool riffs, and Animal concludes the song with the lines, “They wanna lock me up and throw away the key.” You’ll be hard pressed to find a more pointless declaration of anarchy, and every time I hear it I think of Archie in Repo Man saying, “Let’s go do some crimes.”

Finally, “So What” is one of the least appetizing songs ever written, with Animal going where no animal has gone before, bragging about all the unsavory acts he’s committed, including sucking an old man’s cock, fucking a sheep and a goat, spewing up on a pint of piss, doing every hard drug known to man, etc. And his answer to anybody who objects to his, say, fucking a goat (“I’ve had my cock right down its throat”) is, “So what, so what/So what, so what you boring little cunt/Well who cares, who cares what you do?” It’s a great slice of hyperbolic punk transgression, and a classic case of deliberate moral outrage.

Anti-Nowhere League makes me happy because they give the inverted peace symbol to everybody and everything, and they do it with a laugh. Which was what punk was all about; gleefully outraging the normals. Animal took the dirty rotten punk personae to the level of self-caricature, and took pride in both his own perversity and his band’s lack of musical prowess, separating the sheep fuckers from the boys in the process. Who else would include the lines, “Well I’ve had crabs/And I’ve had lice/And I’ve had the pox and that ain’t nice/So what, so what” in one of their songs? They were punk’s very own version of the street people Animal sings about in “Streets of London,” and the brief refrain of “My Fair Lady” they open that song with is not just a lark—although it is that—it’s also a point of comparison between the England of happy myth and the real England, the dirty rotten filthy England, that had spawned the grimy likes of Anti-Nowhere League.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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