Given the environment they were in, it’s no wonder that the UK Subs remained decidedly underground, even for a punk band. They formed in 1976 for a start, the same year as both The Clash and The Damned, and only a year before the Sex Pistols released Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, with the biggest claim to fame to many being Guns N’ Roses’ cover of their track Down On The Farm on “The Spaghetti Incident?”. That’s not to say that the UK Subs have nothing to them though; their debut Another Kind Of Blue is regularly viewed as an unappreciated classic, while vocalist Charlie Harper’s past life as a rhythm-and-blues singer lends a bit more depth to their overall personality. As well as the fact that, despite innumerable lineup changes and Harper currently in his seventies, the band have never really taken a break, there’s a lot to be said for the UK Subs’ longevity if nothing else.
That also runs the risk of albums like SubVersions being released though, an awkward, fragmented covers album that does little for the original versions and even less for the UK Subs to attest that it’s worth them sticking around. This couldn’t feel like a less essential work if it tried, taking songs from the most random grab-bag of artists imaginable – spanning Ray Charles and Tommy Burrette to Queens Of The Stone Age – and transforming them into slapdash hard rock renditions that barely have a single difference between them. At least there’s energy that sets the UK Subs apart from the plodding half-measures that so many other bands of their age tend to default to, and Harper’s fried, frayed rasp of a voice is welcome, but it’s not as though they do anything useful with it; Train Kept A-Rollin’ (a song that’s been covered a million times already, for the record) sounds nearly identical to the Aerosmith version, and Feel Good Hit Of The Summer doesn’t have any space for new takes beyond what QOTSA did on the original.
There’s so little that’s stimulating or interesting about these covers; takes on Bob Seger’s Get Out Of Denver and David Bowie’s Suffragette City are passable enough thanks to some melody that’s a bit more recognisable, but then there’s Slaughter & The Dogs’ Boston Babies or The Stooges’ 1969 which are so boring and tedious, made even worse by drowned-out instrumentation with the fidelity of being recorded in a pub toilet. And for as much as Harper’s extra energy can be praised, there’s no way he can keep up with the faster pace, and if it wasn’t for the fact these are covers, there’d barely be a single track that isn’t totally incomprehensible.
It’s not as if there much appeal here to start though, even towards the slim minority that might like haphazard punk covers of random tracks. When bands like Me First And The Gimme Gimmes exist who’ve built their entire career on doing this sort so much better, such a poor effort from the UK Subs has no reason to exist. It’s not even as if this is to claw back some sort of popularity or relevance, because lord knows that was never there to begin with. There’s simply no reason for this album to exist, and it’s probably for the best for it to stay that way.
For fans of: The Stooges, The Damned, Sham 69
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘SubVersions’ by UK Subs is released on 22nd June on Cleopatra Records.