Lack of Knowledge – The Grey CD

Lack of Knowledge
The Grey CD

I love post-punk music, and I was a fan of the style long before it became fashionable in the late 90s to combine powerful guitars, keyboards, melancholic stream-of-consciousness lyrics, passionate singing with a faux-British accent, and the word “The” before your name. Seeing The Chameleons live in Rochester in October 2002 was the fulfillment of a dream; I wish I had been old enough to have experienced The Sound live in 1985; and the steady flow of classic post-punk reissues by labels like LTM and Renascent inspires and excites me.

My affection for post-punk makes me a particularly scrutinizing fan of the genre, and I was anxious to hear The Grey CD, a new remastered collection of the Grey EP and Sirens are Back LP, recorded by Lack of Knowledge in 1983 and 1984, respectively. With a sound often compared to Joy Division and Gang of Four and two members who later joined The Buzzcocks, I had great expectations of The Grey CD.

There are a few terrific songs here, and Lack of Knowledge’s tone is an instant travel back to the gloom and passion of Britain’s post-punk halcyon days, but the overwhelming majority of tracks on the compilation drag with seeming disregard for melody. The Grey CD opens with a batch of its strongest recordings. “We’re Looking for People” offers an apocalyptic vision with reverberating guitars and massive beats. In a call to the masses, the lyrics stream with great drama: “In the corner of a burnt out building you sit with the bomb / Don’t sleep now it’s almost time / Outside snow begins to fall as the car turns the corner / A figure rushes into the street clutching the deadly symbol of freedom / Lets loose the destruction made of desperation.”

After this storming opener comes the best song on The Grey CD, “Another Sunset.” With a lush keyboard intro that recalls The Wake, “Another Sunset” quickly offers vivid lyrical imagery that prompts pondering: “The dying sun, red and swollen, goes down for the final time in a blaze of glory / A symphony of colour / Orange, red, green and violet dance across the horizon, leaving a vast perfect skyline, a sad goodbye to humanity.” Based on the lead vocalist’s earnest, emotional delivery and the stunning guitar playing, it would be easy to mistake Lack of Knowledge for The Sound with Adrian Borland at his peak. “Another Sunset” possesses a perfect mix of lyrical reflections and instrumental flourishes.

The two remaining songs from Lack of Knowledge’s Grey EP, which appear on The Grey CD as the third and fourth tracks, are less impressive but still interesting affairs. “Girl in a Mask” and “Radioactive Man” benefit from sudden tempo changes on the former and a combination of manipulated sounds and a terrific rhythm section on the latter. The Grey CD then loses its edge. The siren that opens “Danger to Life” is the track’s most interesting element, and it’s hard to remember the declaratory “State of Being” even after several listens.

Although Lack of Knowledge conceived perfect post-punk song titles like “The Bunker,” “Disaster Level,” and “Last Victory,” the formulaic tempered rants that dominate Sirens are Back (tracks 5-14 on The Grey CD) never grab hold of the listener. The band’s drummer and bassist were clearly talented, but the hooks are as rare as a smile on this doom-laden album. A 10-track LP with so much passion and not a single song that comes to mind just minutes after listening to it is a frustrating discovery. The jerky “Born Leader” and stripped-down “Flamethrower,” which close The Grey CD, are worthy attempts to break the monotonous sound of the album, without success.

Following two outstanding songs and a pair of solid post-punk recordings in the form of the Grey EP, the tedious Sirens are Back is a major disappointment and spoils The Grey CD. I’m not sure what limited the commercial success of Lack of Knowledge, but the band’s inability to consistently fuse stimulating lyrics with catchy melodies like The Sound and The Chameleons probably had something to do with it.