It’s been eight years since the Buzzcocks’ last studio album (Flat-Pack Philosophy), and The Way shows them to be in fine form, with their own special brand of poppy punk/punky pop as honed as ever.
Founding member and guitarist Pete Shelley remains on hand to hold down the fort, along with Steve Diggle, who only misses out on being a founding member by a few months (Diggle joined the band on bass, but has since switched to guitar). The album marks the debut of Chris Remmington on bass; drummer Danny Farrant has been with the Buzzcocks since 2006.
The songs are evenly split between Shelley and Diggle (with Farrant getting a co-writing credit on Shelley’s “It’s Not You”). Shelley’s “Keep On Believing” kicks off the album in strong form, a bracing slice of edge power pop that’s classic Buzzcocks. “People Are Strange Machines” is a wry look at relationships, which you might not immediately realize, as it’s set to a jaunty beat, laced throughout by a stinging guitar line.
The band eases back on the throttle a bit for the next few numbers. Both “The Way” and especially “Virtually Real” (the latter song a rebuke to the pernicious reach of social media) have an underlying urgency to them, the minor-key antics hinting at a danger that’s lurking closer than you’d like it to be.
There are more signs of angst in the album’s second half: the anticipation of salvation held out as a lure in “Third Dimension,” “Out of the Blue” cutting to the heart of the matter in the telling observation, “The voices in my mind/they contradict me all the time,” and the sense of loss in “Chasing Rainbows/Modern Times” evident in its title.
Shelley’s “It’s Not You” is the kind of song ostensibly mourning a failed relationship, but it still sounds suspiciously upbeat. But you can’t say the same of the album closer, the heavy, fuzzy “Saving Yourself.” The album’s longest track, it clocks in at five minutes, Diggle sadly reflecting on the need for self-preservation, with a melancholy guitar ringing through to the end.
It’s trademark Buzzcocks, with the slashing guitars to get you going and biting lyrics that let you know it’s not all fun and games. It’s good to have these guys back.