"Haigiography" (Album, 2016)
One Bright Spark Records
I have fond memories of Hagar the Womb - they're one of the first bands I liked that I knew the members socially, and I saw them a lot in the early to mid '80s (although I missed their seminal debut at the Wapping Autonomy Centre in 1981), so I was happy to get a copy of this CD in the post. Avoiding the Shouty/Thrash cul de sac (as well as the Preachy/Stating The Bleedin' Obvious one to a great extent) that the uninitiated believe to constitute the entirety of the genre, even including those rarest of beasts - love songs - this retrospective highlights what a broad church anarcho-punk was during its all too brief first flowering.
Covering their 'career' from the debut The Word of the Womb 12" to 2014's Life of Lies 7", taking in cassette-only live recordings and unreleased studio demos (but no Peel Session!) along the way, this is a pretty complete survey of Hagar The Womb's recorded output (though missing personal favourite By Force). Highlights? Well, pretty much all of the first thirteen songs; the Dead Kennedys influenced guitar work on Cardboard Theatre; the fantastic exuberance of Dressed to Kill (“No, no, no! Stop, stop, no!.. If you put that on the record, I'll kill you!"); the heartfelt lyrics of True Love and Faith and Come Into My Soul; the Iberian influence of For the Ferryman; One Bright Spark and Song of Deep Hate gently chiding what was fast becoming the anarcho-orthodoxy.
After these stellar efforts the quality drops off relatively sharply; Life of Lies employs a laboured* metaphor, and together with 'Distant War' (complete with cock rock heavy metal leg iron gush**) and 'You Never Learn' feels unfocused and desultory. Presumably included for completeness' sake Masterpiece (which is anything but), and No Time To Stop are of archival interest only, while the other live tracks taken from the Increase The Pantomime cassette, Life of Lies, You Never Learn, and No Limits (which fools you into thinking it's an instrumental until the 'singing' starts), just aren't very good, although it's nice to have a record of the line-up featuring Veg Ranking Bass of Shocks of Mighty! fame, Julie and who went on to form We Are Going To Eat You/Melt with Chris (drums) and Paul (guitar) when Hagar The Womb disintegrated around 1986]***
The whole package is rounded off with a with previously unreleased demo recordings from 1982 - Polluted Ideals swipes the riff from the Pistol's Belsen Was A Gas to no great effect, Truth? has some nice phased guitar, and sounds significantly different to the (also included) officially released version, Routine is OK, and Today's Miss World is an old live favourite with a great chorus, which still stands up today.
Often chaotic, occasionally gauche of lyric, but always unafraid to poke fun at themselves and an increasingly dour, self-limiting scene and have a fucking laugh, the world was a better place for having Hagar the Womb in it, and if this compilation is somewhat scrappy and of inconsistent quality, it accurately reflects the reality of the Hagar the Womb experience.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
9/10 for the first thirteen songs, 5/10 for the next ten, and 7/10 for the last three, which gives an average of 7/10. Add on another point for the booklet, and you have a not unimpressive 8/10.****
*If you haven't heard the song, you probably won't appreciate what a witty bit of wordplay this is, but trust me, it's a corker.
**Sorry: Anarcho in-joke.
***For more of this tale, see the ever excellent Kill Your Pet Puppy website.
****If I was feeling uncharitable, the exclusion of By Force (especially with the addition of live versions of tracks already on the CD in studio form) would have resulted in a severe downgrading in the points department. Luckily, being theup-beat happy go lucky person that I am, I rarely feel uncharitable, but just for Steph: - 4/10.
Nick Hydra (August 2016)
"Anthrax/Hagar The Womb - Split 7” EP" (EP, 2016)
Grow Your Own
I was expecting very little from Hagar the Womb's Hated By The Daily Mail, touched as it is by the dread hand of ska-punk. I was planning to write a review in the style of HP Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu, with the 7”� taking the place of the Wilcox bas-relief but I realised it'd be an awful lot of work for a geek-boy joke that only about ten people would understand. In any event, it's nowhere near as woeful as I was expecting a song inspired by a humorous t-shirt slogan to be, so the conceit of its existence being too terrible to contemplate and stay sane would be slightly overwrought even by my slightly purple standards.
If we set aside the frankly rubbish hated by you chorus which allows bassist Mitch to indulge in his best Bobby Farrell* impression but adds exactly nothing to the proceedings, the lyrics are actually pretty good - “Look behind the words/ Look behind the spin/ See the lies beneath/ See the lies within”. I actively enjoyed the approximately 30% where it sounds like a proper punk rock song, and during these sections, where the skanking is (advisably) ditched, there are moments where this sounds like the Hagar of old; but then they ruin it by going back to the piss-poor skanking.
I know I bang on about my dislike of ska-punk, but I find it intolerable; redolent of the absolute fag-end of the anarcho scene, the last resort of the 'Will this do?' brigade. Made by and listened to by people who have no understanding (or even liking) of either punk or ska, destined to be played in dank Dutch squats to bellowing drunks flailing around amid spilt beer, fag ends and broken dreams. None of this is exactly Hagar the Womb's fault, but they should know better. And this is really my problem with this song; it's a bit half-arsed and throw-away. Like they couldn't be bothered to put the effort in. One of the things that I always liked about Hagar back in the day was that they were a laugh live, but they always had good songs to rely on once they stopped dicking about and their records were packed with proper hooks and choruses.
Since their reformation they seem intent on having fun above all (and good luck to them), but if they stopped fucking about and took themselves more seriously they'd be a much more impressive proposition. This would have got 7/10 but the ska-punk nonsense has brought it down to 5/10.
Anthrax contribute two tracks (and) and unusually for them, the production is a bit polite, with the guitars quite low in the mix. Luckily this doesn't really get in the way too much, but it mutes their usual fearsome live attack. Fear occupies the territory where punk bleeds into what is now mislabelled 'post-punk' (or god help us 'goth'), bringing to mind The Pack, or perhaps more accurately; The Wall, and features fractured, impressionistic lyrics which describe a character pushed to brink of mental collapse (“There's little or no room for love/ In this place you once called home”).
In contrast, Suprise Suprise builds from a restrained bass riff reminiscent of the intro to Metallica's My Friend Of Misery to a thrashy three minute volley from the front line of the austerity wars via some guitar work that finds them at their most Conflictesque.**
Castigating those who have forgotten to never trust a politician (especially a politician who claims that 'we're all in this together'), it doesn't have the subtlest of lyrics or tunes, but when vocalist Oskar roars out the line “Lessons never learned”, all such reservation are forgotten. Slightly less essential than previous efforts due to the somewhat restrained production, these two songs are still definitely worthy of a solid 7/10, giving the whole release an average of 6/10.
** Which is totally a thing
Nick Hydra (April 2016)