The Psychotronic Man finally gets his Revenge. 14 years after I saw them perform at The Attic at one of their earliest gigs, the Manchester punk band named in honour of a barber in Chicago who can kill people by giving them the stink eye is going into retirement. They recently released That Was Just A Noise, a mostly chronological compilation of material from throughout their lifetime, and so dedicated was I to approaching this historical document in the right spirit that I actually watched The Psychotronic Man (confusingly, also known as Revenge of the Psychotronic Man). Fittingly, for the incredibly prolific DIY people behind Revenge, TNS Records and Manchester Punk Festival, it is considered one of the first truly feature indie films. Not fittingly however, it is incredibly slow moving and incredibly shit. If I was into making up convenient lies, I’d tell you that the delay in doing this review (the album dropped quietly in May) came from watching that piece of utter wank in very slow increments. The young band must have been into Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Robots are probably the only way ROTPM could have kept the game going for much longer anyway. Automation (AKA “the future of work” that is just around the Black Mirror-lined corner for all of us) could well have been the key to keeping up their 190 beers per minute sound as they aged. In a genre typified by speed, Revenge seem to have always pushed the tactic along without slipping into heavier styles of music, a Benjamin Button bell curve that can’t go on forever. For example, I have compared the 2004 CD version of their first ever track Rita, Sue And Bob Too from that early gig with the 2014 7” version included on That Was Just A Noise, and it is a clear 20 seconds longer, showing the kind of musical “growth” that’s respected only in the backwards punk universe. It’s customary to mention a lack of songs above two minutes to denote speed, but on this 27 track album you must turn to remixes and covers to break the threshold. You’re on fast forward almost all the time. The oi’s never sit comfortably, and you’re fighting your own tongue to sing along with them. It’s like Kid Dynamite slathered in lager.
Revenge soon moved beyond naming everything after awkwardly titled films, like Roger and The Eberts on the programme Love (Day For Airstrikes also named an album after Rita Sue and Bob Too. Apparently Manchester acts just love depictions of working class Yorkshire). Their messaging would spread, as depicted here, into drinking, animals, idiocy, drinking, songs titles destined for extended lives on T-shirts and TNS compilations, drinking, ravemixes, covers, Radio 1 sessions and drinking. They stuck with the Alan Partridge title references though. It skirts the right side of the line between fun and dumb for me personally, never winking at the listener like a dick and keeping the humour nestled under a cheetah’s running speed of instrumentation.
With such music there’s always the danger of it all bleeding together, which happens a little here on the surface, but contrast sprouts off in various directions, musical and thematic. Is This Cool (from second album Shattered Dreams Parkway, 2012) has a fantastic breakdown of social media overload: “Stop fucking typing, it’s a load of shit/Life is so much better when you just get on with it.” These moments when the frenzy slows just a tad are some of the most satisfyingly anthemic and attention-grabbing. There’s The End of Everything, with “We don’t know what’s coming next/So let’s all get fucking wrecked.” I foresee it featuring heavily in the final minutes of their remaining setlists. It’s one of many elements that teases at the wider scope thinking of Revenge, and that makes me think of last year’s freaky-animated, philosophical exploration game, Everything. The cut and paste album cover depicting beasts across time and space; Planet Earth II; I Know A Cracking Owl Sanctuary; Look At Me, I’m A Fucking Tiger; Fuck the Sea; I Wanna Be A Spaceman. Vuz Lightyear is the really early lo-fi junk that ends many punk discographies, put in for the same honest self-deprecating reasons that I, in the first paragraph, linked to a laughable review that I wrote aged 19.
The other interesting oddities are deliberately placed at the two-thirds mark of That Was Just A Noise, conscious of the fact that naked punk rarely fares well beyond about 14 slices. Beer For Breakfast (remixed here by the late Tim G) is that nuanced punk number embracing both the reckless, pseudoscience excess wing of the culture, and the straight edge-informed sensibleness found in this version’s looped closing line (“not every day or you’ll die”). Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far gets the rapid beeping remix treatment out of Edinburgh “riotstep” band From The Cradle To The Rave, and Past Lives of Saints is off the track-swapping split Revenge did with “Country and Eastern” labelmates Bootscraper, The Bear and The Tiger. Finally in the weirdo section is 15 Million Merits, a session track that they did for the Mike Davies Punk Show in 2013, the BBC riding that cutting edge wave as ever. 15 Million Merits is an example of the bands tendency to promote community over commodity (“Everybody wants something NOW NOW NOW!”).
Although I haven’t lived in the communities involved in nearly a decade at this point, the fact that I’ve remained quite aware of their activities speaks volumes about Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man’s contributions. There are no other prominent UK collectives from my youth that I still hear about regularly, and that longevity counts for something. Such a golden age are they leaving behind that that I apparently can’t listen to a compilation spanning the previous decade-and-a-half from a Manchester act without being exposed to commentary about the steaming heap of distraction in a suit running my adopted country (Fake News). They’re also breaking up just as the perfect skin-deep excuse for a mad tour comes up, with the impending release of a VHS appreciation documentary about psychotronic people, which sounds as utterly Fab Café friendly as the rest of the band’s imagery.
If you love well-executed, fast as fuck rock that’s casually presented but with some enclaves of intelligence and experimenting, you’ll want this. If you’ve been a casual fan of the band and label over the years, far from following every release (like me), this will provide enough things that you missed to be worth your money. And frankly, it would seem that they’ve earned any pennies you can give them. The TNS/ROTPM crowd has always seemed to make their DIY punk work seem preposterously prolific and yet simultaneously direct and effortless (they achieve so much, they must be quite simply “just doing it”). It’s impressive, and with the winding up of Revenge, perhaps we can expect to see even more out of their other organs. The psychotronic man should be thankful, for his name is now attached to a much more impressive body of work.
The band has about 15 gigs left that you can see here, up to a final big one in Manchester in December. You can buy tickets for that gig and buy the album from TNS Records here. That Was Just A Noise can be streamed on the player below.