STIFF LITTLE FINGERS: Live and Loud/Salute the Flag: 2 x CD

Though I imagine many would argue the point with me, methinks SLF was one of the best punk bands to come out o’ that initial wave of U.K. punk back in the ‘70s, and are one of my top five favorite bands ever. True, their output got progressively weaker as the years went by, and the stuff they’ve released after reforming hasn’t lived up to the legacy they built the first time ’round, but those first few records were something, indeed, and had all the requisite parts—lyrics that were intelligent and occasionally provocative, white-hot guitars, impassioned vocals, and hooks up the wazoo—for them to give bands like the Clash a run for their money. Yes, I know they had a bit of lyrical assistance from outside their immediate ranks, but for fuck’s sake, at least they were good lyrics. So yeah, no small amount of hero worship coming from these parts. Of the two live albums collected here, Live and Loud has the set list with the most hits, but Salute the Flag has the best delivery of the tunes and the best sound. On the former, that the band had just reformed, shows in the looseness and lack of oomph in the performance, though it’s still nice to hear live versions of classics like “At the Edge” and “Tin Soldiers,” and their piss take of the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ’til Brooklyn”—here appropriately rechristened “No Sleep ’til Belfast”—shows their sense of humor survived their dormant years. The latter album, released four years later, features a tighter and more focused band, one that delivers tunes like “Wasted Life” and “Suspect Device” with newfound vigor and a good chunk of the passion that made them classics in the first place, and newer songs like “Each Dollar a Bullet” show glimmers of the promise that they have yet to fully cash in on. In the end, both albums collected here have much going for them and, while I wouldn’t go so far as calling them crucial, would be a nice addition to any fan’s collection.

 –jimmy (www.cherryred.co.uk)