Maybe it's the climate of the election season that I've been very good at tuning out this year (my roommates could tell tales of me swearing and throwing things at the TV when Cheney and Edwards went head-to-head), or the general ennui of mission creep both abroad and at home, but finally finding a best-of comp of The Ruts (being frugal and not prone to instant gratification means that I wait until it lands in an actual store that a homie works at instead of clicking through at Amazon) at the Exchange (which my friend who works there describes as being a step above a pawn shop in these times) hit my punk rock sweet spot this week. That and an odds-and-sods comp of The Gathering's b-sides for a dollar, incongruous maybe but so is most of the record collection as it is.
Anyways, The Ruts, beloved by Henry Rollins and a big influence on Fugazi, one of my favorite bands ever. I had a few tracks that I compiled onto a CD, the top ten hit "Babylon's Burning" and the dubtastic "Give Youth a Chance" that's probably responsible for sending me down the old-school roots reggae rabbit hole. Those sinuous and menacing basslines, the skittering of cymbals, so perfect for late night driving through the dark streets of Clevelandia, that fire and brimstone apocalypse, Babylon emblematic of everything gone wrong in Thatcher-era England, with the class and ethnic tensions roiling.
It kind of amazes me that the Sex Pistols got most of the press when there were so many better bands writing really good songs and putting out solid albums, where there were some technical chops evident but less of the accompanying wankery. Paul Fox's guitar work is all over, driving and textured and reverberating over a rhythm section equal parts skank and Sabbath. Malcolm's voice is the perfect gruffness over such tunes.
Don't get me wrong, I love The Clash and the early work of the Police muchly, but The Ruts took that punky whiteboy reggae fury to another level.
Sadly, Malcolm's death by heroin overdose led to their being a footnote or a choice cut on a compilation rather than any kind of iconic status except about college radio dorks like yours truly. And that's a damn shame, and without further ado, I'll let the music continue to do the talking, since it's pure gold.