The Ge­netic Years


Cel­e­brat­ing Buz­zcocks singer’s solo area, swap­ping punk for trail­blaz­ing elec­tropop

PETE SHELLEY’s solo ca­reer came com­pletely out the blue and faded just as fast. It’s now seen as lit­tle more than a sub­plot in the Buz­zcocks story, but Shelley’s two solo al­bums were re­veal­ing, en­ter­tain­ing and in some ways pi­o­neer­ing, em­brac­ing gay pride, com­puter tech­nol­ogy and elec­tropop with real en­thu­si­asm. Both 1981’s Ho­mosapien and 1983’s XL1 have now been reis­sued on vinyl as The Ge­netic Years, a boxset that in­cludes a third al­bum con­sist­ing of 12in mixes and dub ver­sions. There’s also a signed photo, and new sleevenotes by David Quantick.

Ho­mosapien was born when Shelley and pro­ducer Martin Rushent were record­ing Buz­zcocks’ fourth al­bum, which was abruptly aban­doned af­ter the duo be­gan to dis­cover the po­ten­tial of Rushent’s Roland MC-8 and Jupiter-8 synths and LM-1 drum ma­chine. Shelley re­alised he could ap­ply his trade­mark yelp, mis­chievous lyrics and love of hooks to a dif­fer­ent can­vas. It placed Shelley not a mil­lion miles away from the ter­ri­tory be­ing cov­ered by howard Devoto’s Magazine, and it also put Shelley at the dawn of ’80s elec­tropop – and Rushent would soon re­fine the sound for The hu­man League’s Dare. The al­bum even con­tained a hit sin­gle – ti­tle track “ho­mosapien”. It was fol­lowed by 1983’s chunkier XL1, which added gui­tar and fur­ther lay­ers of ’80s synth-pop pro­duc­tion.

Shelley had ex­per­i­mented with elec­tronic mu­sic be­fore he even dis­cov­ered punk, so this whole-hearted em­brace of elec­tropop was not out of char­ac­ter. he’d formed Buz­zcocks in a sim­i­lar spirit of spon­tane­ity and was once again gripped by the whereit’s-at im­me­di­acy of a new type of mu­sic. his fas­ci­na­tion with tech­nol­ogy ex­tended to XL1’s locked-groove track – a com­puter pro­gramme con­tain­ing vi­su­als and lyrics for the ZX Spec­trum. This could be played in sync with the al­bum – an early ex­am­ple of a down­load.

The switch in genre also co­in­cided with Shelley mak­ing more ex­plicit the sex­u­ally am­bigu­ous na­ture of so many clas­sic Buz­zcocks’ songs. The BBC de­clined to play “ho­mosapien” be­cause of hi­lar­i­ous lines such as “Homo su­pe­rior... in my in­te­rior”, but the sin­gle was out, proud and catchy, sell­ing well in Canada and Aus­tralian and go­ing down a storm in clubs. While noth­ing else on Ho­mosapien is quite as im­me­di­ate, there are sev­eral fine tunes – “I Don’t Know What It Is”, the droney “I Gen­er­ate A Feeling“– and a real sense of poppy fresh­ness.

The fol­low-up, XL1, was less suc­cess­ful, even if it also had another strong lead sin­gle in “Tele­phone Op­er­a­tor”. The vibe is heav­ier and while tracks like “Many A Time” and “If You Ask Me (I Won’t Say No”) are ex­cel­lent, it’s a lit­tle bogged down by the pro­duc­tion. Disco Pete and Rushent also recorded sev­eral longer mixes, dub med­leys and B-sides, which ap­pear on the third LP. The nine-minute “ho­mosapien” is worth a lis­ten, but the high­light is the fab­u­lous “Wit­ness The Change”, also from 1981.

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