Among the many bands that have had in one way or another a part in the British post-punk movement of the late '70s, Brixton's This Heat were one of the groups that took the unbridled experimentation the furthest. Being described as the missing link between the anything goes ethos of progrock and the more direct and simplistic approach of punk music, this, their 1979 self-titled debut, is nowadays largely recognized as a very influential and timeless masterpiece.
From a technical standpoint, the appeal is immediately recognizable. The hotchpotch of genres, styles and various studio wizardries the members employ here - ranging from an abundance of atonal, metallic guitar screeches, over subtle Jamaican dub, kraut and world music influences, to a multitude of overdubs and the (manual) cutting and pasting of tape recordings - makes it rather difficult at first to really pinpoint the essence of This Heat's actual music
. It doesn't help either that it takes until around the fifth track for something even resembling a conventional song structure to appear, and then still... That's not really the point either, though, and as with all great albums, This Heat
slowly reveals its uncanny ability to get under the listener's skin with each consecutive listen. Appropriately, the album can be set stuck in an infinite loop through the 'Testcard' tracks that bookend it. The hypnotic repetition these tracks possess really lets you submerge yourself into the band's bleak universe that's bound to hold you captivated, if you're willing to let it.
Aside from the experimentation, the main characteristic of the post-punk genre as a whole and this album in particular was the transition from the loud and angry "Fu
ck you!" punk mentality to a more introspective and depressing "We're fu
cked" one. After all, the record was recorded during a time of economic crisis in Britain to which the one we're currently facing can't hold a candle. Even worse, the temperature of the Cold War between the USA and Soviet Union was at an all time low and the chances of atomic bombs destroying the world seemed to rise every single day. The band members poured the fear and paranoia they felt in every fiber of their body into their music, which results into dark and cryptic lines like "Here I am in the ocean. Not waving but drowning. Please don't rescue me"
that make up the main portion of the lyrical content of the album. Together with the mysterious and at times downright creepy background instrumentation, the ideas they spout make the members' fragile state of mind actually tangible.
This makes listening to This Heat
a mentally demanding, but ultimately very rewarding experience. Many of the concepts - especially the not-so-sane ideas they introduce here - were largely expanded upon on the critically acclaimed 1982 follow-up, Deceit
. Both albums have over the years proved themselves to be rather essential listening for lovers of music that trades the downtrodden paths for adventures in unexplored areas of sound. Of the two, this self-titled debut is definitely the hardest to digest, but given enough time, This Heat's first album will almost certainly prove itself to be one of the most intriguing records you'll ever hear.