Thursday, August 03, 2006

raising the flag

stiff little fingers - 'flags & emblems'

released: 1991
running time: 35'48"
castle communications

suggested for review by aino

songs: 1. (it's a) long way to paradise (from here) 2. stand up and shout 3. each dollar a bullet 4. the cosh 5. beirut moon 6. the game of life 7. human shield 8. johnny 7 9. die and burn 10. no surrender

In face of recent events, it's sadly appropriate that Aino suggested this record for me to talk about, a record that had the song 'Beirut Moon' as a first single. There was controversy at the time, with the single being banned for the attacks it contained on the British government regarding its action (or lack thereof) in the John McCarthy hostage situation. This might have given Stiff Little Fingers a much needed boost of credibility they desperately needed at the time. 'Flags & Emblems' came out at a difficult time in the life of the Northern Irish band - generally considered to be washed up and way past their prime, reforming after five years of inactivity with the purpose of 'making a bit of cash to get back to Ireland for Christmas', the excitement wasn't high.

'Flags & Emblems' was a good reaction to all that. No, it's not as good as those legendary first 80s John Peel-approved records, especially 'Go For It!', but it doesn't mean to be, either. While those were pure go-ahead punk records, 'Flags & Emblems' incorporates all the things they had tried to bring into their sound and had failed miserably at and ultimately led to their break-up. Jake Burns' sung-not-screamed vocals, the poppier hooks, the vague reggae influences, basically a process of Clash-ization. I don't know if they spent those five years thinking of how to do it, but here it all works fine. 'Beirut Moon' is actually one of the weakest tracks here, despite the importance of the message. It's the Clash-y songs like 'Stand Up And Shout' and 'Die And Burn' that will really get you moving about. Their politically charged lyrics aren't smashed across with the same abandon as before, but their strength and weight is maintained by good musicianship and memorable choruses and guitar leads. Some of the songs will probably pass you by without great excitement, but the record as a whole is very listenable and the repeat play potential is great after you start picking your favourites. The sound does lack a bit of aggressive bite, which was the main gripe for the hardcore punks that couldn't forget their blazing earlier records.

On the other hand, the best thing about 'Flags & Emblems' might just be its accessibility. Lots of people who won't give political HC punk a second listen might be lured in by these songs. When a band actually is able to reflect and stand up (and shout?) about important issues, the more people listening the better.

The Stiff Little Fingers more or less faded away after this, with a couple of forgettable releases to their credit, but as you can hear in the pop-punk wave that followed it, 'Flags & Emblems' still remains an important, valid and influential record today.

the good: catchy clash-like punk songs, serious political lyrics
the bad: not a match for the earlier records, too poppy for the hardcore punks


  1. I have never heard Stiff Little Fingers until recently when I heard a few seconds of them on a movie. I liked what I heard. I like some punk rock, but not real poppy stuff. I like early 80's UK hardcore stuff like GBH, the Exploited and Discharge and early 80's LA stuff like MDC, DRI, Dr. Know and the Angry Samoans.

  2. great that you mention discharge, they're my favourite punk band ever. 'hear nothing see nothing say nothing' is such a classic. the exploited too, wattie is one of my heroes :)

    so considering your tastes, i'd recommend that you start your stiff little fingers experience by 'go for it!', it's closer to those bands.

    but if you like the clash, for example, you'll probably enjoy this one too, even if it's not as classic punk. also, i didn't mention it in the review, but the 'beirut moon' lead owes a lot to iron maiden. :)

  3. Good review Jose.

    I'm a major fan of their first two albums, particularly "Inflammable Material".

    I went to see SLF last year, but sadly there was none of the spark there and I was a little dissapointed.

    I recently did a review and gave 8/10 on my website

    Great site

  4. BTW the review was for "Nobodys Heroes"

  5. SLF have been making me happy on bus rides recently by being catchy without being stupid.

    my favourite head-bopping songs are the ones you mentioned, plus the cosh, johnny 7 and each dollar a bullet.

    i just suspect you were talking about a completely different band with "lots of people who wouldn't give brutal music a second listen probably got caught by this iron fist in an iron glove.." - what does SLF have to do with brutality? and iron fists and gloves? it's as poppy as political music ever gets.

  6. ben: thank you for your comment. i'll check out the review and the rest of your website. :)

    regarding slf, i've never seen them live, but i have also heard and read what you just said, that they have been less than exciting these past few years. it's a shame that some bands don't really age gracefully.

  7. aino: yeah, you're right - if only all pop(ish) music was as un-stupid as this. :)

    johnny 7 is a very cool song too, i could have mentioned it as well.

    about your last paragraph - thanks for pointing it out, it was a bit confusing!