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Penis Envy

Crass

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Album Review

Libertine takes the lead vocals throughout Crass' third album (the one exception being de Vivre's turn on the unnerving portrayal of hospitals and waiting for death, "Health Surface"). A powerful and challenging record, Penis Envy uses the brutal, cruel description of sexism and rape on the opening track, "Bata Motel," as a launching point for a comprehensive rip through societal control and repression throughout. Smart enough to target everything from the mechanics and business of selling romance ("Smother Love") to gender stereotyping ("Systematic Death") and back again, lyrically the sharpest cut is toward those who choose to accept such a system rather than reacting back against it. Libertine's delivery places her as one of punk and post-punk's most distinct vocalists; if her atypical approach to singing has parallels to everyone from Poly Styrene to Pauline Murray, she consciously avoids sugaring the pill as the album continues on its way. One of her finest moments comes on "Where Next Columbus," a smart, blackly humorous riff on notions of discovery and control, on every level from economic and political to personal and back again. If immediate musical variety isn't as evident on Penis Envy as on Stations of the Crass' studio cuts, more than a few twists and turns are evident. There's the sudden burst of noise and layered series of voices on the environmental lament "What the F**k," the nervous crawl into aggro charge on "Poison in a Pretty Pill," even a pretty little guitar figure to start off "Berkertex Bride." Phil Free's lead guitar work is especially effective, often a trebly white sheet of electric aggression, while Penny Rimbaud's drumming gets more varied and interesting as well. Crass' always blunt cover art reaches new but gut-wrenching heights as well, featuring a prepackaged sex doll on the front and gutted pigs on the back. The conceptual effort closes with "Our Wedding," an intentionally sappy romantic number done for a mainstream magazine as a prank.

Biography

Formed: 1977 in England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '70s, '80s

The brittlest and most hard-line radical of the first wave of British punk bands, Crass issued a blitz of records that were ruthless in both their unrelenting sociopolitical screeds and their amelodic crash of noise. The horrors of war, the arbitrary nature of legal justice, sexism, media imagery, organized religion, the flaws of the punk movement itself — all were subjected to harsh critique. Like few other rock bands before or since, Crass took rock-as-agent-of-social-and-political-change...
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Penis Envy, Crass
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