There were numerous tributes paid when the news of the death of Pete Shelley was announced. The vast majority of them, unsurprisingly, focussed on his achievements with Buzzcocks while others reflected on his solo career.
I may be wrong, but I can’t recall seeing any mention of an album he released in March 2002, one for which he again teamed up with his old sparring partner from the punk days, although to be fair it’s a work probably more worthy for its novelty value than being memorable for the overall quality of the music.
The album was called Buzzkunst and was released under the moniker ShelleyDevoto on Cooking Vinyl Records.
I suppose much of the disappointment around the album was that many fans from days of old were anticipating and hoping for something that was reminiscent of old school Buzzcocks, or perhaps something that was close with perhaps some Magazine fairy dust being sprinkled liberally. Instead, we got 14 songs, some of which had vocals courtesy of Howard and some of which were purely instrumental and almost completely down to Pete, with the sound being a 21st Century update of the electronica of his solo output. I don’t want to give the impression that Buzzkunst is a clunker of a record – it’s far from that – but it’s a work that has its moments but never quite manages to hit the spot – which is the way I would summarise the career of Luxuria, the duo formed by Devoto, alongside multi-instrumentalist Noko, in the late 80s.
As I mentioned in a previous piece on Pete Shelley, nobody should have been too surprised about the electronica nature of his solo output given his first love and forays into music had involved the genre at a time before it developed into such a commercial phenomenon. It’s also worth recalling that he initially bonded with Howard Devoto over electronic music and it was only the discovery of Six Pistols and their ilk that led to the strapping on of guitars. As such, the signs had always been there that the first collaboration in a quarter-of-a-century would have turned out the way it did and the fault lies in me, as a discerning listener, in failing to realise that in advance.
The record does start off strongly enough with an upbeat track which very much wears its 80s sythn-pop influences (of an alt nature) on its sleeve and at the same time provides a reminder of why so many of us enjoyed Howard’s distinctively sneering and often self-deprecating vocal style:-
The other real standout track is the one which was released as an accompanying single, which does seems as close to a Magazine song as we had heard in decades with a backing vocal that is reminiscent of Spiral Scratch:-
It is only with hindsight that it is possible to see this is the track which with the past and Howard’s decision to reform the band in 2009 and to eventually release the album No Thyself in 2011.
Elsewhere, there are some OK moments on Buzzkunst along with stuff that really shouldn’t have been developed beyond the demo stage. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of instrumental numbers which hark back to Pete’s mid 80s solo output, with this, in my estimation, being the pick of them:-
Many critics at the time heaped praise on the work, but I feel much of this was out of reverence to the two protagonists rather than an honest assessment of the quality of the album. Any hopes some might have had that it would lead to a continued partnership weren’t realised, although it is worth noting that Pete did get a couple of writing credits on the Magazine comeback album a full nine years later, so they clearly kept in touch and continued to bounce ideas off one another.
If I hadn’t been on holiday when Pete Shelley died, I’d have likely pulled together a tribute piece on his band and/or solo years. I hope you don’t mind tha I ended up going down this particular pathway….