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Wild Billy Childish & the MBEs
Thatcher's Children Ian Gittins , August 7th, 2008 14:36

Wild Billy Childish & The MBEs - The Thatcher's Children

Integrity in music is a strange and fluid notion. For some artists – and Björk and Damon Albarn come to mind – it entails being nobly allergic to commercial success; moving into ever more marginal and avant-garde areas to maintain their mojo. For Radiohead, it is – or was – all about saving their non-bourgeois souls by giving their music away for nothing. And for Kent’s own Billy Childish, it means never selling out to diversity, or change, or imagination, and instead making the identical record again and again and again.

With a productivity rate that leaves Mark E Smith resembling Kraftwerk, Childish has made more than 100 albums of ragged garage rock over the last thirty years. Indeed, the dogged, dogmatic Fall are a good attitudinal reference point, except that Childish lacks Smith’s sly wit, his edgy euphoria, his gnomic contrariness. When his former lover Tracey Emin condemned Childish’s determinedly static aesthetic vision as “stuck, stuck, stuck”, he took it as a compliment: he does not progress but then nor, by the same token, does he regress.

Instead, he just does this: this is what he does. Thatcher’s Children is a marvellously apposite album title for a man who remains consumed by adolescent grudges; who, entering his 50th year, appears still to be seeing the world through the eyes of Jilted John. The indignant punk-blues throb of the uptight title track sounds like a lesser Jam b-side, while elsewhere the carefully amateurish musical ethos recalls the long-forgotten punk journeymen who made up 1977’s numbers: Eater, Sham 69, UK Subs, Angelic Upstarts. Particularly Angelic Upstarts.

Childish grunts and thrashes away, the great British eccentric who never sold out partly as an act of grim willpower and partly because nobody ever wanted to buy him, but the Buzzcockian ‘Coffee Date’ and ‘He’s Making A Tape’, for all of their lyrical detail, betray a creativity that has atrophied through repetition. Ultimately, the irony is that his truculent passivity represents a timid refusal to quit his musical comfort zone, rather than any spectacular, chance-taking integrity. The album closes with a bleary roustabout called ‘Back Among The Medway Losers’, and you can almost feel Billy Childish nod with satisfaction: for the 107th time, he’s kept it as pretend-real as ever.