Alternative TV: The Image Has Cracked

MARK PERRY has been a confused person and, through that, confusing.

Many of his problems were rooted in the days of Sniffin’Glue. Unintentionally and increasingly reluctantly this young shy bank clerk became a fashion component and spokesman to the colour supplements and glossy mags for a movement whose restrictions, dogma and misplaced aggression he quickly recognised and developed distaste for as his intelligence and awareness grew through action and involvement.

ATV was born in many ways out of the frustration he met in those days; it was a reaction. Since those days of Sniffin’ Glue, where he could do no wrong (although he himself soon realised the falseness of it all), he has drawn scorn, derision, misunderstanding, accusations – the lot.

Many of the insults he partly deserved; he has been bitter, cynical, narrow-minded, impulsive, but the one thing he really deserved, patience, has never come his way. Few could see that Perry was travelling by touch alone; discovering and moulding as he went.

Not many treated Perry’s self-discovery with respect; critics and fans reacted scornfully and abruptly, at best politely. It has been a classic tale of ignorance and suspicion. Even when he gained deserved acclaim for some early music and records, noticeably ‘Love Lies Limp’, he smashed all this seemingly on purpose, by curiously sacking Alex Ferguson, who many considered the actual creative force in the group, for being ‘too poppy’. Perry had decided, clumsily, that if nothing else he was not into ‘tradition’. Nor into doing things the easy way.

With The Image Has Cracked, Perry and ATV have thrown all the impatience, derision, unsympathy and condescending despair back into our faces. Perry has matured, shown he deserved patience, and established a totally unique style. Out of arrogance, elitism, naivety and bloody-mindedness Perry has actually produced a record that takes a step forward for rock.

The Image Has Cracked is an innovative, courageous and coherent album. The art of communication and observation has been uncovered and, furthermore, sharpened. Perry has isolated what it is he hates most – apathy, ignorance and evasion in his contemporaries and, crucially, emotional loneliness and confusion. The preaching is muted; the bitterness controlled. Musically, Perry has discovered the power of simplicity and atmosphere, the usefulness of juxtaposition, and is fully aware of rock’s limitations and the possibilities of transcending these limits.

But it’s not only the maturity of its components that’s the reason this album is so successful; also the presentation.

The album is an impression. It is similar to the way Buzzcocks threw a gossamer impression over their debut album by enclosing a chronological development of the group from early Devoto up to the mild Teutonic elements of present day within two short blasts of ‘Boredom’ – except ATV take the idea a few steps further.

The first piece is ‘Alternatives’. It starts with a manic-comic synthesiser burst, then segues into a brave live recording of a section of a 100 Club gig when Perry, as part of his obsessive, idealistic desire to use the group as a platform for their audience’s hang-ups, invites those with something to say on to the stage.

People clamber on stage, but no-one has anything to say on this ‘soapbox’. It is an exhibition of futility and, eventually, violence. Perry is totally dismayed: “Right, look, some of you people gets a chance to say something and what do you do but fight? That’s all you can do is…all you do is squabble with each other…I love all you people but l hate you when you fight ‘cos that’s when they grind you DOWN!”

SLAM! This moves straight into a TV show, The Other Cinema’s Open Door Programme, on which ATV appeared. It’s a straight recording. Perry is using the ‘soapbox’ he’s just offered to an audience, whining about the problems of acceptance and the dilution involved when Gen X or Sex Pistols appear on TV. Someone cries–”We know the problems. What are the answers?” Perry immediately retorts “This is very depressing, ‘cos there is no answer.”

This is ironically untrue. With this album, Perry goes some way to proving that perhaps there are answers to the problems of rock and its restrictions, fame and its dilutions. And by including the tape of an audience’s inability to communicate anything but their irritating aggressive competitiveness and verbal bullying, he is at least confronting directly such morons with shame.

After this, it’s ‘Action Time Vision’, a loose, conventional introduction to the group. Then a non-original, their ‘oldie’, Zappa’s ‘Why Don’t You Do Me Right’; they give it a potent interpretation. The ironical, accusing ‘Good Times’ is a third, fairly conventional driving rock song – a live recording.

The group’s way of blending live with studio is slick and unfussy, and creates an active mix. ‘Still Life’ is an example of this; a masterful piece of music, the first part is a live instrumental, churning and calm, laced with threatening guitar runs. The rhythm section eventually strips away, leaving a repeated guitar note, which suddenly flowers into the second part, a studio version of the same tune, with vocals.

Alex Ferguson helped write three songs on side one, showing Perry isn’t as snobbish and foolish as thought. In fact, the music on side two, all of it written without Ferguson, has a strength and frankness that proves Perry was right to part company with Ferguson.

Side two is the side of possibilities. Proof of Perry’s growth. The demonic, mournful love song ‘Nasty Little Lonely’, the testing, curious electric guitar of ‘Red’, and finally the edgy, dangerous ‘Splitting In 2’, again a live cut, a piece of music of persistence and mood.

Words like ‘commitment’, ‘control’, and ‘classic’ are redundant with a record like this. It proposes new ideas and mechanisms; it opens new doors. It is one of the few true innovative rock albums. A totally unexpected and fulfilling achievement. And now Mark Perry’s eyes have opened, there is so much potential.

© Paul MorleyNew Musical Express, 24 June 1978

Leave a Comment