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Spizz - Where’s Captain Kirk? - The Very Best of Spizz

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Artist: Spizz

Album: Where’s Captain Kirk? - The Very Best of Spizz

Label: Cherry Red

Review date: Jan. 7, 2009


Spizzenergi - "Where's Captain Kirk?" (The Very Best of Spizz)


Michel Houellebeqc, in his futuristic novel, The Possibility of an Island envisions the end of religious extremism as neither a bang nor a whisper, but rather a victim of changing fashions. He writes, “The Islamic fundamentalists, who had appeared in the 2000s, had suffered more or less the same fate as the punks. At first they had been made obsolete by the appearance of polite, gentle and pious Muslims from the Tabligh movement – a kind of equivalent of New Wave, to continue the analogy; the girls at the time still wore the veil, but it was pretty, decorated, with lace and see-through material, rather like an erotic accessory, in fact.”

Given Mumbai, there is, as yet, very little evidence of softening among the suicide bomber clique. However, if you want to trace the same phenomenon amongst punk rockers, the brief, name-changing heyday of Spizz will do quite well.

Spizz first formed as Spizzoil in 1978, a punk-rock skiffle duet out of the West Midlands, originally comprised of Spizz himself (Kenneth Spiers on the driver’s license) and Pete Petrol. (Palmolive from the Slits briefly joined them on drums.) The two of them caught a break when they were asked to open for Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1978. That got Rough Trade’s attention – they released two singles under the Spizzoil name in 1978, “6000 Crazy” and “Cold City.”

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Spizz was making a run at a Guinness Book of World Records title for number of band names in the shortest period. (The record was denied as “too specialized” according to the Spizz website. Perhaps they should have tried eating pickled eggs or something.) But in any case, the band’s name changed regularly, about once a year, throughout the band’s prime and even beyond it. As a result, the band’s best known song “Where’s Captain Kirk” was recorded as Spizzenergi in 1979, its chart-dominating “No Room” (the first No. 1 UK independent single ever) as Athletico Spizz 80 in 1980, its “Work” and “Megacity 3” singles as Spizz Energi 2 in 1982. Signed by A&M as Athletico Spizz 80, the band put out Do a Runner under that name, then a follow-up, Spikey Dream Flowers as Spizzles a year later. As a marketing strategy, it didn’t work very well. Spizz et. al. were dumped by A&M after the Spizzles CD, just as new wave fell out of fashion.

Where’s Captain Kirk? gathers most of the early singles – everything but the Spizzles’ output – plus some later materials recorded in the late 1980s as, simply, Spizz. The tracks aren’t sequenced in chronological order – “Where’s Captain Kirk?,” the fifth single, comes first – but if you listen to them that way, you can hear a band moving from the rawest kind of punk, through synth-y, theatrical new wave and into some fairly awful techno-dance. (Chronological closer “On My Own” makes the Pet Shop Boys sound muscular and rugged.)

The earliest efforts – “Cold City” and “6000 Crazy” – have a raucous, untutored edge to them. “Cold City” seesaws on singsong-y sawed-off guitar riffs. Its drums sound like they were recorded in another room. “6000 Crazy” is sludgy and indifferently tuned. And yet, these cuts have a jagged, tetanus-infected edge, the sense of danger and direction-less aggression that flowed through first-wave punk.

A year later, with “Where’s Captain Kirk,” Spizzenergi was a full-band, not a duo, with a cleaner, fuller sound. The thrift store aesthetic had evolved into something sharper and more premeditated. A tuneful-ness lurked under still belligerent energy. The song is very much in line with early Clash. There are some light-hearted touches that hint at new wave – a theremin, for instance – but it still sounds like punk. The song was hugely successful. John Peel called it his favorite Star Trek-themed song ever, and it became a staple at European dance clubs.

Except for the long piano introduction, you could say the same for “No Room,” from June of 1980. Its b-side, though has a lengthy acoustic opening, a baroque touch to a song that eventually kicks into “Jail Guitar Doors’” rowdiness. And there’s an aura of calculation around it. Why stop with one Star Trek song when the first one’s gone so well?

Where’s Captain Kirk? skips the Spizzles era, and goes straight to three Spizzenergi 2 singles from 1982: “Work,” “MegaCity 3” and “Jungle Fever.” These are markedly more synthy, drifting inexorably into new wave. “MegaCity 3”’s opening riff will remind you of bands like Flock of Seagulls and the Fixx. “Jungle Fever” incorporates goofy tropical birdcalls into its arrangements, and the vocals are significantly smoother and more melodic than on earlier cuts. “Work,” with its barroom piano, sounds like a Springsteen cover, only slightly punk’d. (It incorporates jokey bits of La Marseillaise on kazoo, the riff from “Paperback Writer” and an Indian chant, as well.) They’re not terrible songs, just a lighter weight and slipping from new wave into an even softer, sillier, more surface-y kind of sound.

By 1983, however, the fashion had shifted completely and new wave was on its way out. Spizz experimented with electronic music in 1986 – “On My Own” is a relic of that era – but never again achieved widespread recognition. Today, he still plays and still records occasionally for Cherry Red. He has, among other things, made three attempts at writing England’s World Cup song. Still most of the interest in Spizz is nostalgia. Where’s Captain Kirk will certainly satisfy anyone’s yen for reliving their early 1980s club-going years, though without making much of a case for its enduring relevance.

By Jennifer Kelly

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