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Best Before

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Album Review

Serving as the final Crass album ever, Best Before collects the band's many singles and some rarities into a convenient collection. It covers everything from its first single, "Do They Owe Us a Living?," to a version of that song that concluded the group's final show ever at a benefit for Welsh miners in 1984, with a series of shockingly good high points in between. Generally avoiding the inclusion of their single tracks on albums so as to avoid ripping off the fans, as well as allowing for more immediate responses to outside situations, Crass made the pointed, questioning protest song its own work of art, avoiding easy answers as they went. While the earliest tracks show the band as little more than loud, thinly recorded and somewhat run-of-the-mill punk with an ear for a focused rant or two, by the time the harrowing "Reality Asylum" was composed in 1979, Crass had a much more individual approach going. The song, with what sounds like De Vivre handling the blunt, anti-Christian spoken word vocals, mixes musique concrète and found-sound snippets with spacious, echoing elements and low, strange drones. A more individual approach to what "punk" was supposed to be couldn't easily be found. There are straightforward full-band eruptions that don't stop: the astonishing rip on the political hypocrisy of bands like the Clash, "Bloody Revolutions," or "Sheep Farming in the Falklands," appearing in both extant versions and packaging a revulsion of the war there into an obscenely articulate blast. Other more avant-garde tracks as "Shaved Women" and the scabrous "Nagasaki Nightmare" find them experimenting all the more. Besides all the lyrics, the lengthy booklet contains an impassioned band autobiography that details the group's goals and hopes, their successes, and sometimes cruel failures. As an overview and as an example of politicized music taken to its fullest extent, Best Before remains a worthy, unique release.


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 seriously,...
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