BOXSET REVIEW: Punishment Of Luxury – A Puppet Life (The Complete Recordings) (Cherry Red Records)

I’m ashamed to say that despite being a native of the North East England, Punishment Of Luxury were a band who had passed me by – until now.

Formed on Tyneside at the end of 1976, they issued their acclaimed debut single Puppet Life on leading indie label Small Wonder in 1978.

That earned them a deal with major label United Artists for their debut album Laughing Academy, which came out in 1979.

The debut single opens disc one of this handsome 5CD set from Cherry Red, which gathers pretty much everything they’ve done to date, and if, like me, you’re a Punilux newbie, what a place to start.

They fused the energy of punk with the artistic values of musical theatre, and although they’re usually labelled post-punk, some of their songs have as much in common with ELO as bands like the Talking Heads, who were making waves elsewhere, to much more acclaim. I’d liken them to PiL, but easier to warm to.

The first album is a thing of beauty indeed – how had I never heard this?  Yes, it’s edgy and jagged, off-kilter at times, with sudden chord changes, but how can you not like the guitar riff in The Message, the slightly disturbing Obsession, the punky Babalon and Brain Bomb, or the frankly bonkers B-side Jellyfish?

Listening to them now, at a distance of 40 years, they’re a clear influence on early noughties guitar bands like The Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand, and if you’re into those bands I’d thoroughly recommend this.

How it all went wrong is something of a mystery. As band leader Neville Atkinson explains in the sleeve notes, they were called to a meeting at the record company and told they were “not really suitable for today’s modern market”. Not commercial enough? Probably.

They were working on a second album when they were dropped and it was eventually released as Gigantic Days, a mail order cassette, in 1981. It contains songs like Fascicult Barbaraclique, Blood Money and Auschwitz. Yep, definitely not commercial, but still sounding like nothing else out there.

Gigantic Days and a host of other songs from the time which were used for the 1997 compilation Revolution By Numbers by Newcastle label Overground Records make up disc two (including the fabulously-titled My Wife’s In Love With A Polar Bear), along with four tracks from a previously unreleased 1978 John Peel session.

The next stop was Red Rhino, a York-based record company who liked the band, and it released 7, the 1983 mini-album which forms the basis of disc three. Pleasingly, this version has the track Gasman, missing from earlier reissues, restored, and it adds the single Hold Me (Never Mould Me), which is probably the most commercial thing they ever did.

It adds unissued single Doubting Thomas, plus seven tracks from Feels Like Dancing Wartime, a Nevilluxury solo record. The standout track of this disc is Golden Corsets, though Funghi runs it close.

Bringing the story right up to date is disc four, which contains the six tracks from Hi Alien, which seemed to be their swansong in 1989, until they emerged, blinking, into a new musical landscape, with 5, in 2011, and found that people who loved ‘different’ music still had time for Punlix.

If all this wasn’t enough, the real treat for fans of old is disc five, which brings together songs from three hitherto unheard live performances. The first 10 are from a planned live album at the Nashville in 1979, and are of excellent quality, showing just what the band were made of, though the others, from Kant Kino, the Hope & Anchor and Reading festival the same year, are sadly little better than bootleg quality, but are interesting as historical artefacts.

Neville has also contributed unique sleeve-notes and visuals for the booklet. If, like me, you somehow missed out on Punishment Of Luxury, this is a great way to fill that gaping hole in your music collection. 7/10.

Gary Welford owner