Where I come from, grit is all. If you can demonstrate that you have it, then you?re authentic; if you can?t, you?re not. Even people who have moved to posh suburbs still talk up whatever city roots they can claim, still remain obsessed with displaying toughness amid sprawling lawns.
Steve Walsh, former guitarist for Manchester?s Manicured Noise, frames his band?s short journey in similar terms in the liner notes to this reissue of the band?s work. He left London in 1978, when, he says, ?the fag end of Punk Rock was burning out in cartoon 3-chord thrash or industry-friendly power pop.? He moved to Manchester, a grimy industrial city bereft of arty pretension, but able to nurture band like Manicured Noise and Joy Division, whose practice space abutted Walsh?s.
It?s easy to hear Joy Division?s stentorian blurt as the aural manifestation of the tough Northern sound Walsh extols. Manicured Noise, though, sounds like a different animal. Walsh wisely cops to his band?s Talking Heads influence straightaway; it?s quite apparent on early songs like ?Long March,? with its loping bass, disco drums, and agitated, yelping vocals. These, along with a prominent saxophone, are signature elements of Manicured Noise?s early sound ? yes, another antecedent of the DFA/LCD sound surfaces! ? and they combine in a more ornate way than one would typically associate with bands in Joy Division?s orbit, or bands that opened for Wire (as MN did). Speaking of whom, I tend to think Walsh was wrong to think of late ?70s punk rock as an inevitable dead end the way it was, as one need only look to Wire for a road map out of a stylistic rut; but Manicured Noise?s difficult sound was another path, too, and a rewarding if arduous one.
There were expansions, too, beyond the squawking template laid down on the first several songs on this compilation. Three later songs were recorded at This Heat?s Cold Storage studios, and they seeem imbued with a more experimental spirit; ?Music B? features original singer Owen Gavin, and his vocals are clipped, processed, far from Walsh?s later Byrne-inspired yelling. The music, too, is somehow both more precise and more diffuse; sharp guitars remain, spraying surly treble as D. Boon would a few years later, but there is more space for them to move. This goes double for the live recording ?Soundtrack,? where Joy Division?s gibe that the band sounded like Pink Floyd becomes most apt. The herky-jerky approach is jettisoned entirely in favor of a spacey, scattershot jam. It?s easy to see why Walsh is somewhat rueful about the band?s breakup, as a band capable of all this could?ve and should?ve gone farther.
I?ve never been to Manchester. I?ve never really felt that the grit so prized in my hometown was a part of me, not genuinely. I seek out musical grit supplements. Though they manifested it in unusual ways ? intellectuals in a working-class town, urbane musicians deploying New Wave styles in an effort to out-punk punk ? Manicured Noise were that. 8/10 -- Sal Addays (27 March, 2007)