999: Separates

AND YES, this unfortunately is where it separates. 999’s second album – always a fateful thing – and the illusory packaging hides a regression.

This record, this sleeve, have a MOR feel to them – a disturbing, all too symbolic shift. On the first 999 album cover, UA’s graphic arts dept, were in such a rush to present the boys as poppy WOWEE Disneyland punks (caricatures?) that they forgot to list the band members. That was cruelly representative, but this…

This time the song titles have been forgotten, and that is even more cruel than the last that all along 999 weren’t what they wanted to be, only what we wanted them to be, only what UA let them be. Here they are on Separates, and they could be singing ‘Communication Breakdown’ for all it matters, they’re happy to be on a Martin Rushent produced album in the window display. Old riffs are polished, so you can’t place them – this is 999/Rushent’s craft, and/or craftiness.

The voice is a rock voice, the titles are rock titles, the name is a rock name. ‘Feelin’ Alright With The Crew’, ‘Homicide’, ‘Crime Parts 1 & 2’, ‘High Energy Plan’, ‘Out Of Reach’, ‘Subterfuge’…’999’. It all fits. Like Lego. Anyone can want this to be 1978 rock music enough for it to be so; if it was, then other people would have the perfect right to say that ‘rock’ is ‘dead’.

Take it home to mum and dad, they’ll pretend to ‘pogo’, probably. Hum, whistle, pretend to break chairs over each other’s heads. Write away for the free 12″ single. Everything’s safe in the deposit box, everything’s sharp in the window display.

It looked good in the window display, didn’t it?

© Ian PenmanNew Musical Express, 14 October 1978

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