Whenever I stop to think about the eponymously titled 1982 album called The Lords of the New Church, featuring punk rock legends Stiv Bators (RIP) of The Dead Boys and Brian James of The Damned, I always pause to chuckle a bit. At the time of its release, it was not high on my list of “must have” albums. I was into Stiv Bators’ first solo album (Disconnected) and I loved Elvis Costello’s cover of The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat” (which James wrote). But when one of my room-mates in college brought The Lords of the New Church into our dorm room and put it on the Stereo, I was surprisingly a bit skeptical about it all. My first impression was that it sounded awfully shiny and polished. I later had similar criticisms of many 80s-era records made with a similar sheen. My roomie liked the Lords album and played it a lot. I still wasn’t sure. It felt a bit … well… kind of pushed and pre-meditated, like it was consciously trying to tell me something but processed through a sieve of fashionable trends (not necessarily a bad thing, mind you… stick with me…).
Turns out I wasn’t far off in my assessment.
Fast forward to today and I learned from a press release for a new two CD edition reissue coming out (from Blixa Records) of The Lords of the New Church that this punk supergroup (if you will) came together at the suggestion of none other than music industry legend and I.R.S. Records founder Miles Copeland (older brother of The Police’s Stewart Copeland). In the release, they explain that indeed this band was a conscious effort to reach a younger audience which may have missed the 1970s punk movement but probably would have liked to have seen The Dead Boys and The Damned — perhaps reaching people in fact just like myself who in 1982 had never gotten to see those bands in their heyday. Of course, eventually I got used to the sound of the Lords‘ record — which was pretty much the sound of the 80s — and came to like the music once I learned to separate the songs from the production. I got my own copy after college because indeed some of the tunes are really great (especially “Open Your Eyes” which remains a modern rock anthem bearing a powerful, poignant message that still resonates today).
Anyhow, I bring all this up because in the new reissue of The Lords of the New Church the second disc in the set features a remarkable alternate perspective on the band in the form of a live WLIR-FM radio broadcast. I think I seem to remember having at one point a hissy multi-generation cassette copy of this show — recorded at the now legendary My Father’s Place in Long Island, a popular nightspot and site for many a live radio show back in the day — dubbed from a friend who taped it off the air. But by then I had moved on to headier pastures populated by King Crimson, Talking Heads, Interview, XTC, Be Bop Deluxe, and others. I never really gave this band much mindshare. The crummy cassette didn’t pull me in; or perhaps I wasn’t listening closely enough. ‘My bad,‘ as they say….
This new version comes from the band’s own personal vault and is a much more engaging listen.
If I had fully appreciated back in the that The Lords of the New Church in concert were more of a punk-power-pop-glam experience, I would have probably gone to see them in a heartbeat (I didn’t have cable TV early on so I never saw any of the music videos for them at the time). Unlike the polished, gated-snare drum enhanced sheen of the studio recordings, the live versions on the new bonus disc are much more raw and in some ways more powerful. Listening with fresh ears thirty-five-plus years on, the roots and purpose of this band are more evident. The music on the live recording is edgier and harder hitting (check out this live version for an idea of what they sound like). Despite all the goth flavor of the US album cover art (in always-hip black with a cross-like dagger) and the original UK cover (which shows the boys sporting trendy big hair, sleeveless leather vests and headbands — I can see why they changed the cover art for the US actually), these guys still had punk powered rock ‘n roll in their hearts. For example, the version of “Fortune Teller” here is on fire and the live version of “New Church” is played much faster and harder than the studio version (and accordingly feels a whole lot more authentic).
This reissue of The Lords of the New Church is essential listening if you are into this band and if you are curious about this period of Stiv Bator’s career. Unfortunately the album is not yet up on Tidal but the band’s subsequent albums Is Nothing Sacred? , Method To Our Madness and a Live From London collection are their for your enjoyment. While you are at it, do check out the singles by Stiv Bators up there on Tidal including his great cover of The Choir’s “It’s Cold Outside” and “The Last Year of My Life”. Both are great power pop gems.