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Alternative TV - Primitive Emotions

Alternative TV haven't released a studio album since Opposing Forces in 2015 but since then they've released a number of singles and EPs and contributed to a number of compilations. That body of work recorded between 2016 and 2019 is compiled on Primitive Emotions, a collection that Mark Perry has confessed sounds more like an album rather than just as compilation gathering together various loose ends. He's not wrong. Primitive Emotions is filled with an energy, probing, agitatiing, quietly questioning and damning where need be. Mark Perry may not be able to provide the answers to the human condition but he's certainly got the questions and with a band comprising in-and-out ATV members Dave Morgan (The Loft, The Weather Prophets, Vic Godard) and Clive Giblin (Crisis) amongst others show that this is a group still prone to reinvention.

The compilation title is lifted from the opening track 'This Little Girl' which sets this off in fine form with a thrashy, distorted mutant groove with Mark Perry's sneering vocal focussing on a girl caught up in a negative state of mind, unable to focus on the positive. It's a strong entry proving that Alternative TV are still a vital force. Even better though is 'Art School Project' a melodic synthy pop track almost Wire-esque in sound, which maybe laments the loss of art and rebellion from those that grew up in the punk milieu.

Betraying a bleaker viewpoint, repeating the title in treatments, on 'Negative Primitive' Perry continually questions what it is to be human and to have a purpose, or even an opinion. "We're always waiting for the answers that never come" he opines over chugging distorted riffing riddled with snaking guitar lines. It's one of many tracks here, such as 'Like A Tomb' and 'Her Dark Places', subject to self-analysis, digging deep into the darker realms of the psyche. It's a theme returned to later on in Primitive Emotions but Mark Perry is not averse to displaying his sense of disillusionment with what became of punk - something he's been criticising right from the beginning.

Just listen to Rebel Proof Glass' the first track on Primitive Emotions to embrace the experimentation that set Alternative TV apart from many of their seventies peers. Set to a near lifeless pulse smeared with swarming with searing electronics 'Rebel Proof Glass' offers a damning indictment of the aftermath of punk and its "rebel breed" whose current product is put down by Perry as a "funeral pyre" represented by a legacy of anniversary concerts, books and gallery exhibitions. A rebellious spirit crushed by a music business churning out box sets, a book, t-shirt and a badge that reads "I was witness to life and death of an idea". A potent critique of "the hollow men who've let us down again" from Mark Perry a disgruntled and somewhat ashamed punk originator.

'The System', the first of four-tracks from the Dark Places EP, is a mass of power punk energy riffing on Perry's anti-system/authority/establishment shtick. Following the disparaging barb of 'Rebel Proof Glass' it feels a bit ironic that the Dark Places EP was a Record Store Day release. But whatever, If you can't beat them, join them, I guess. Reduced to a duo of just Mark Perry and Clive Giblin, 'Verlust' is more downbeat and melodic with Perry imagining an affair in slightly distant and treated tones in this atmospheric slow paced number filled with creeping synths. I've got a lot of time for Vic Godard and Subway Sect. His annual Scottish shows, often alongside The Sexual Objects, are to be treasured. Like Mark Perry, he's another veteran from the punk era out there doing his own thing but on 'Like A Tomb' he adds squawking and discordant guitar, far removed from his current work which veers from melodic punk to northern soul. Anchored around jazzy drums and loose bass tones, the skeletal framework is framed by squealing electronics and Perry's spoken word ruminating on life and a humdrum existence where our rage, dreams and ambitions are quashed as we settle for a "bland and predictable" existence. The Dark Places EP, released on the Winter Hill associated label Fourth Dimension, closes with 'Her Dark Places' charged with a brooding chugging riff, kinda Killing Joke style, with Perry offloading about dignity characterised as a sexual episode. It's another strong track with Alternative TV in full-on rock mode.

'Radiator' is much more aggressive and synthy with Mark Perry, ranting and raging rhythmically in those distinctive tones over pulsing synths and bursts of industrial styled metallic clanking. It's another intriguing track throwing criticism at those who promised rebellion but succumbed to co-option by the music business. A distinct case of becoming what you once despised. The next two tracks taken from a lathe cut single, the most limited of all the vinyl releases featured here, expand on the diy electronics approach of 'Like A Tomb' with 'Walls' confined to rickety chimes and tone rhythms enveloped in swirling electronics and bass pulse couching the distant tones of Mark Perry, in an atmospheric track as claustrophobic as the title implies. 'Hollow Stream', meanwhile, is an improvised fest littered with loose coruscating guitar scrawls, strewn feedback and hollow tones. More spacious, these two tracks show that experimentation still plays a role in Alternative TV.

Closing Primitive Emotions, 'Chinese Burn' is anchored around some powerful drumming in a loose sound with passages of buzzing distortion as Perry, shrouded in shrieks, once again in agitation mode stays true to his punk roots pisses on installations and arts performances for backroom gigs. Maybe we've come full circle, as it includes a lyrical allusion to 'How Much Longer' in its references to Nazi armbands in his pointed lyrical barb.

Like me, you might be surprised at the versatility and inventiveness of what Alternative TV offer on Primitive Emotions. Still agitating, still reinventing, still relevant Primitive Emotions offers a one-stop shop of singles, extended releases and compilations, it's well worth your time. For more information go to Fourth Dimension Records