No New York

Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, D.N.A.

A review from Rolling Stone, 4/5/79, by Tom Carson, kindly supplied by Steve.

A great deal of punk rock is basically art rock in a primitive guise, and in the hands of the avant-gardists who've turned to punk in the wake of New York's underground renaissance, both the artiness and the primitivism have been pushed to their logical extremes. You do it first, and then somebody else does it pretty - or, as in the case on this four-band anthology produced by Brian Eno, deliberately unpretty. Despite its intellectual top-heaviness, the music on No New York is all surface: militantly antimelodic, inaccessible and antihumanist. The fact that nihilism is here reduced to an aesthetic pose only makes the message even more willfully repellent.

Within these borders, No New York ranges from the fairly compelling (James Chance and the Contortions' shrieking, Pere Ubu-like collages of sound built from a metronomic, Velvet Underground beat) to the utterly unendurable (the inept caterwauling of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks' Lydia Lunch). In between the extremes are a competent but not particularly intriguing white-noise group (Mars) and an interesting but not particularly original punk band with just enough conceptual icing to squeak by as avant-garde (D.N.A.).

But even the Contortions, good as they are, arent quite convincing enough to prove that No Wave will ever be more than a fringe movement. While Eno initiated the current project, he doesn't seem to have put much energy into it: his production is unusually restrained. On the whole, he appears more taken with the basic idea rather than the actual substance of the music, and such priorities seem perfectly appropriate. Though I don't dislike No New York, and I'd like to hear more from at least one of the groups on it, this record sends me back to Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance and Eno's own Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) - which is probably where you should go as well.

© Tom Carson 1979