CD Reviews

Girlschool - 'The Bronze Years' / 'Running Wild' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     October 22, 2015    
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Hats off to the Lemon/HNE/Cherry Red team for doing a superb job of polishing up a really eclectic bunch of albums.

'The Bronze Years' brings together the first four Girlschool albums, which originally saw the light of day between 1980 and 1983; the band arriving at the perfect time to ride the NWOBHM wave that heralded the resurgence of Heavy Rock in the U.K. 'Demolition' was the first album out of the blocks, finding the foursome of Kim McAuliffe (vocals/guitar), Kelly Johnson (vocals/lead guitar), Enid Williams (bass) and Denise Dufort (drums) perfectly combining the rougher end of NWOBHM to a Punky edge. With hindsight 'Demolition' may sound a little simple, repetitive choruses married to chunky guitars and yet the sweaty force with which it is delivered makes it hard not to fall in love with this album all over again. Opener 'Demolition Boys' knocks you over in its eagerness to excite whilst 'Not For Sale' keeps the pedal firmly on the gas. The gals liked a cover version and on this debut effort it was 'Race With The Devil' (originally by The Gun) which by scraping the Top 50 helped the album it came from to the lofty position of #28 in the charts. However to sample the best this enduring album contains, try a slice of the pulsating 'Take It All Away' or Motorhead-lite of 'Emergency'. Unfortunately, as with the other three discs in this excellently presented clam-shell box, the discs themselves don't all hold the plethora of bonus cuts the 2004/05 Castle/Sanctuary re-releases did, with only the b-side 'Furniture Fire' adding to the ten album cuts on 'Demolition'.

A year later and 'Hit And Run', with its striking cover of four girls in Rocker's leathers next to a beautiful blue Buick Riviera, found Girlschool at the peak of their powers. Serious time spent on the road, some of which had found Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister taking the band under his wing, had tightened the performances and sharpened the song-writing. Impressed with the energetic sound producer Vic Maile had given 'Demolition', he was once again behind the desk as the faultless eleven song set, where the title track booted a ZZ Top groove into orbit (there's also a superb cover of the Top's 'Tush'), 'C'mon Let's Go' irresistibly merged the drum thumping of Kilmister and Co. to a Saxon-esque riff and the bubble gum smack of 'Yeah Right' helped raise '...Run' to an amazing #5 in the album charts. This time five bonus cuts are added, the most notable being the Headgirl collaboration with Motorhead, 'Please Don't Touch' with the Johnny Kidd & The Pirates cover being probably the song Girlschool are best remembered for. A cover of the Motorhead classic 'Bomber' is stunning while B-side 'Tonight' is as good as anything on the album itself. 1981 was a seminal time in British Metal, but '...Run' stands shoulder to shoulder with the best releases from those days.

In terms of chart success Girlschool had peaked, 'Screaming Blue Murder' reaching a respectable #27 in the album charts. However more notable was a change of producer and bass player, Enid Williams ousted from the band to be replaced by the Kilmister recommended Gil Weston. Producing 'Screaming...' was Nigel Gray (The Police, Siouxsie & The Banshees), he and the band adding a little more sophistication to the "heads down and Rock" attitude of before. Fans at the time were resistant and yet with hindsight the throb of 'Take It From Me' hits hard while 'Wildlife' and its choppy riff is an interesting departure. However, while the slicker Rock of the album's title cut was perfect for U.S. radio (in a very good way), the same can't be said for the husky vocals and tribal rhythms of 'Flesh & Blood' which closes the album in confused manner. One bonus cut this time, the b-side 'Don't Stop', which is a bristling slab of traditional Girl goodness.

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Opening with layers of keyboards and slick, slick, slick guitars, it is obvious from the start that album number four, 'Play Dirty', finds Girlschool heading in a completely different direction. The song in question, 'Going Under', sounding embarrassingly like the Def Leppard smash 'Photograph'. A so-so cover of Marc Bolan's '20th Century Boy' reveals even more about this album, the Glam background of producers Jim Lea and Noddy Holder (both of Slade) alternating with the Leppardisms to admittedly strong effect. 'Rock Me, Shock Me', unsurprisingly falls into the chant-along category, while 'Burning In The Heat' goes as far as being a re-working of Slade's 'Burning In The Heat Of Love', which while delivered with gusto, only really pays off through a striking guitar solo. In the liner notes, which feature numerous interviews with the band put together by Classic Rock's Dave Ling (who sites '...Dirty' as his favourite Girlschool album), it is revealed that Spencer Proffer, who took Quiet Riot to fame in the U.S., had expressed a strong interest at the time in flying the band to L.A. and Americanising them. As McAuliffe herself states "You never know what might've happened if we'd got on that plane...". Five bonus cuts round things out, '1 2 3 4 Rock 'N' Roll' a romp-a-stomp of Glam ala Suzi Quatro, 'Like It Like That' bringing more convincing Leppard licks while updated versions of 'Don't Call It Love' and 'Tush' fail to improve on the originals. '...Dirty' may have confused at the time, but it stands up remarkably well to fresh scrutiny.

As ever from Cherry Red, the clam-shell box, original artwork reproduction card-sleeves and discs are all things of beauty, while the images and vintage reviews in the booklet, along with Ling's detailed essay add genuine value.

Interestingly, in the essay Ling describes 1985's 'Running Wild' as an out and out mistake, so it's no surprise that equally respected Rock-scribe Malcolm Dome gathers together producer Nick Tauber and McAuliffe's thoughts for the booklet of the separately available re-issue of said album; the band having moved from the ailing Bronze label to Mercury for its release. However much change had happened, McAuliffe, Dufort and Weston (now credited as Weston-Jones) joined by lead singer Jackie Bodimead and guitarist Cris Bonacci. Even given that turmoil, the smooth AOR that pumps out of the album's title track (think Outside Edge!) is unexpected. Add in Bodimead's Carol Decker (T'Pau) meets Joan Jett delivery and it's no surprise that there are basically no Girlschool trademarks anywhere to be found. McAuliffe herself (at pains to point out that she still rates '...Wild') admits that it shouldn't have carried the name Girlschool and really she hits the nail on the head. For this is the sound of a band making a cracking album (well, apart from an appalling cover of the Kiss classic 'Do You Love Me'. Ouch!) that was sure to alienate the very people they hoped would buy it. However for AOR lovers, I'd suggest this is a lost gem that shines radiantly in this new light.

Hats off to the Lemon/HNE/Cherry Red team for doing a superb job of polishing up a really eclectic bunch of albums, from an underappreciated U.K. act who blazed a trail for women in Rock and Metal; producing some stunning songs and albums in the process. To their credit Girlschool still tread the boards to this day. It may be six years since they released an album of new material, but with a legacy as strong as that presented here, they've more than enough in their locker to ensure they can still play dirty on another hit and run...

Steven Reid

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